A finance worker at a multinational company in Hong Kong fell victim to a staggering $25.6 million scam orchestrated using sophisticated deepfake technology. The unnamed employee was swindled out of the money after a phony video call in which a man impersonating the firm London-based chief financial officer has convinced him to transfer company funds to several “secret” accounts. The unsuspecting victim did so, making 15 transfers totaling more than $200 million HK dollars. He reportedly only learned it was a scam a week after consulting with the company’s headquarters.
In the case of the fraud, police say the fraudster drew on pre-existing videos to create a convincing deepfake impersonation of the company’s CFO and several other staff members. The fraudsters invited the employee to a multi-person video conference and made him believe everyone present was real. The victim, a clerk in the finance department, believed others attending the call looked and sounded like colleagues he had worked with in the past.
The fake conference participants were crafted using deepfake, which uses artificial intelligence to transform images and videos into a person’s likeness. This includes the voice, which can be manipulated to sound like the target’s own. In the case of the Zoom call, the scammers used public video footage taken from social media and online sources to make the fake attendees appear authentic.
This kind of fraud can be carried out in several ways, including stealing corporate credentials to access sensitive information or fraudulently transferring company money. The technology can also spoof a company’s logo on promotional material or other online assets. In addition, deepfakes effectively impersonate a famous individual and trick people into buying bogus products or services.
While the technology is still relatively new, criminals have already abused it to spread false news, influence public opinion, and defraud investors. For example, a fake video of Elon Musk, in which computer-manipulated facial features are layered over the original image, has been spreading on social media platforms like TikTok. NBC News found over 50 of these fake videos on TikTok, with most focused on the tech billionaire hawking his supposedly revolutionary electric car.
Regulatory bodies and lawmakers are scrambling to catch up with this emerging threat. In the US, for instance, Congress has passed legislation that penalizes anyone who creates a fake image or video intended to mislead. And in Hong Kong, officials have launched a crackdown on deepfake-related crimes.
But the global impact of deepfake is increasing, and it will require a broader coalition to combat its harmful effects. “Regulators need to work together to understand the technology and identify best practices,” says Germano, who argues that laws must be comprehensive enough to cover severe harms while not stifling legitimate uses of deepfake technology.
Experts agree that the best way to protect against deepfake fraud is to increase awareness among consumers and businesses. Companies should train employees to recognize phishing emails and other signs of potential scams and consider using face or voice recognition for employee verification.