The debate around artificial intelligence, and its potential use for financial crimes, gained steam in China this week after a scammer used sophisticated “deepfake” technology to dupe a man of 4.3 million yuan ($622,000).
The victim, surnamed Guo, who works at a technology company, received a video call via WeChat from a “friend” who sought his help to bid on a project in another city, state media China Daily reported.
Police say the perpetrator used AI-powered face-swapping technology to impersonate the friend.
“He chatted with me via video call, and I also confirmed his face and voice in the video. That’s why we let our guard down,” Guo told China Daily.
Guo realised the call was a scam after he called his friend to confirm receipt of the transfer. When his friend denied making such a call, Guo alerted the authorities.
Police in Baotou city, in the Inner Mongolia province, where the perpetrator’s bank account was located, said they had managed to stop the transfer of about 3.37 million yuan. Work to recover the remaining 931,600 yuan was ongoing, police added.
The deepfake scam unleashed a heated debate around the threat to online privacy and security on China’s microblogging site Weibo.
“This shows that photos, voices and videos all can be utilised by scammers,” one user wrote. “Can information security rules keep up with these people’s techniques?”
By Monday, the hashtag “#AI scams are exploding across the country” gained more than 120 million views.
The case comes at a time when China is tightening scrutiny of technology and apps capable of manipulating voice and facial data. New rules, in effect since January, ban the use of AI-generated content to spread “fake news”.
The regulations from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) also direct providers of such technology to clearly label photos, videos and text as synthetically made or modified if they could be misinterpreted as real.
Police in Baotou, meanwhile, urged the public to remain careful while sharing information such as facial images and fingerprints. It also asked people to verify the identity of such a caller through alternate modes like phone calls before making any financial transfers.
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