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Deepfake scammers impersonate executives in video call, dupe company of $26m

Scammers tricked a multinational firm out of some $26 million by impersonating senior executives using deepfake technology, Hong Kong police said Sunday, in one of the first cases of its kind in the city.

Deepfakes refer to digitally altered media (audio or video) of a person to make him or her appear to be someone else. (Pic for representation)

Law enforcement agencies are scrambling to keep up with generative artificial intelligence, which experts say holds potential for disinformation and misuse — such as deepfake images showing people mouthing things they never said.

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A company employee in the Chinese finance hub received “video conference calls from someone posing as senior officers of the company requesting to transfer money to designated bank accounts”, police told AFP.

Police received a report of the incident on January 29, at which point some HK$200 million ($26 million) had already been lost via 15 transfers.

“Investigations are still ongoing and no arrest has been made so far,” police said, without disclosing the company’s name.

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The victim was working in the finance department, and the scammers pretended to be the firm’s UK-based chief financial officer, according to Hong Kong media reports.

Acting Senior Superintendent Baron Chan said the video conference call involved multiple participants, but all except the victim were impersonated.

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“Scammers found publicly available video and audio of the impersonation targets via YouTube, then used deepfake technology to emulate their voices… to lure the victim to follow their instructions,” Chan told reporters.

The deepfake videos were pre-recorded and did not involve dialogue or interaction with the victim, he added.

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