Fake photos, real problems: How you can spot AI romance scams while you're trying to date

Brittaney Wilmore Image
Friday, February 16, 2024
Fake photos, real problems: How you can spot AI romance scams while you're trying to date
ABC13 talked to Feedzai's Andy Renshaw, who gave these tips to help you avoid falling for romance scams involving AI-generated people.

Would you know a person generated by artificial intelligence if you saw one?

ABC13's sister station in Chicago talked to two men in November 2023 who fell for romance scams using AI-generated women.

At least one of the men said he should have known better, but like many others, was vulnerable as he desired to have a partner in his life.

One man said he lost nearly $60,000 after she convinced him to make an investment. The second man looking for love online was also duped out of thousands after falling for women he thought were interested in meeting, but were actually scammers using altered photos and videos.

But sometimes criminals trip themselves up, and those are the tells you should look out for.

Plus, part of the problem, is awareness, or a lack thereof, of how AI is used, said Andy Renshaw, SVP of product management at Feedzai, a global, AI-machine learning company that uses the technology to fight financial crime.

"Only about 30-40% have a high understanding of how this is being applied," Renshaw told ABC13.

One thing you can do to tell the real from the fake is look out for if their statements lack personalization.

"If people are talking in very broad terms about, for example, where they're from or where they went to school. It could be as something as silly as did they know the color of the house they lived in when they were young? Did they remember the type of car they had?" said Renshaw.

He adds that one technique is to keep the conversation fluid. Ask follow-up questions and pay attention to how questions are answered.

For example, if someone said they went to the movies last night, ask what they saw and how they liked the actors. Going further, jump around to different topics, too. Try to refer back to points you previously mentioned.

And when it comes to conversation, try to steer more toward things that would yield to opinion rather than fact.

"So the street that you live on points to fact. How do you find the street that you live on? What do you like about it? Do you enjoy it? Those types of things are much more natural," Renshaw said.

Unless you're the singer Sade, being a smooth operator isn't an advantage in this case.

Humans naturally pause and don't always speak consistently, so if the love interest's speech is a little too smooth and consistent, that might be a warning.

Another scam behavior to watch for is someone is trying to move you to 1:1 channel very quickly, like a messaging app.

Do they always want to schedule time with you or refuse face-to-face interaction? If they can never talk or video call off the cuff, that might also be a sign.

So what should you look for about the person themselves?

Renshaw says keep an eye on if lines are too clean, bland or generic. Also pay attention to the proportions of the features. AI generated people often have less wrinkles or blemishes.

Check the backgrounds, too. Do you notice anything virtual that's looping behind them? Are there noises you might find in a natural environment like a lawnmower or the coffee maker?

The main thing you're looking for, Renshaw said, is cohesion. Is it cohesive between the way the person is acting and what you're seeing in that background?

If you do suspect that your love interest is using AI to scam you, be cautious about how you end the relationship. The instinct might be to call them out immediately. If you're wrong, it'd likely be hurtful. And if you're right, you don't want to help the AI discover ways to get around those suspicions for next time.

"I wouldn't necessarily lead with, 'I think you're AI' or 'I think you're a fake individual. I'd keep it fairly benign and fairly general," recommended Renshaw, who said there's a benefit to using broad terms to end things.

"The reason I wouldn't get specific is the danger is you're actually giving feedback to the fraudster," he said. "If you're too specific around, 'We think you're not a real person.' You're actually helping that fraudster to learn and then commit the crime elsewhere."

But one of Renshaw's top concerns is that people are too scared to report when they are scammed, so they don't do anything about it at all. But that can actually continue to fuel the scammers.

"It's OK to be a victim of a scam. It happens. It's not indicative of you being silly, stupid, nave," Renshaw said. "Romance scams especially already prey on vulnerability, all scams prey on vulnerability, or the chance to make loads of money quickly in some way shape or form."

He advises that instead of holding it in, get a support network, talking to someone that you trust.

And always report the problem to law enforcement or your bank, especially if you've moved money or lost it.

Lastly, you can keep in mind that less advanced AI will have glitches, but don't rely on that too much as the technology gets better.

This is also where silence can be an interesting tool.

"If you're silent on a call, often people will step in. AI might not do that. It might be waiting for a prompt," said Renshaw, noting that sometimes saying less is the best thing to do.

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