AI Deepfakes hurting hip pockets & hearts: how to avoid falling victim to the latest romance scams

Australians are being warned about the psychological impact of being swindled by ‘fake dates’, as deceptive AI based romance scams become more prominent and sophisticated.

AUCloud CEO Peter Maloney said that while romance scams have been a longstanding issue in the online world, the integration of AI has taken these deceptive practices to a whole new level that can have both a devastating emotional and financial impact.

“Once considered outside the realm of human intuition and emotion, the use of AI in online fraud is raising concerns about the sophistication and scale of these scams,” Mr Maloney said.

“Criminals are targeting Australians by leveraging advanced algorithms to craft convincing personas, chatbot scripts, and even deepfake imagery and videos to establish a false sense of connection with unsuspecting victims.

“AI algorithms analyse vast datasets to tailor messages, making them highly personalised. This level of customisation allows scammers to create the illusion of a deep emotional connection with their targets.”

AI-generated deepfake videos and images enable scammers to present a fabricated but realistic visual representation of themselves, which can seriously mislead victims into believing they are interacting with a genuine person.

Mr Maloney said as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, so does the opportunity to manipulate people who don’t know what to look for—and it’s not just the elderly at risk.

“AI-driven chatbots engage in conversations that mimic human interactions seamlessly. These chatbots can adapt their responses based on the victim’s input, making the scam more convincing and difficult to detect.

“The emotional toll on victims of AI-fuelled romance scams is devastating. As individuals invest time, emotions, and sometimes financial resources into these ‘relationships’, the revelation that their love interest is nothing more than an algorithmically crafted persona can lead to profound psychological trauma.

“It’s not just the elderly or the vulnerable that need to be wary. In an age of online dating and living our lives in digital spaces, we all need to exercise caution and ask ourselves the question—is my date real?”

Clinical neuropsychologist Dr Kate Gould from Monash University said romance scams thrive on emotional manipulation, where perpetrators exploit the human need for connection and love. “By creating a false sense of intimacy and trust, they manipulate victims into making decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make,” Dr Gould said.

“Psychologically, romance scams often play on the victim’s vulnerabilities, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, or a recent life trauma.” “Scammers use carefully crafted personas to fulfill the emotional void in their victims’ lives, making it easier to deceive and manipulate them.”

“In romance scams, the psychological manipulation is a gradual process. Scammers invest time in grooming their victims, gradually escalating the emotional connection. By the time financial requests are made, victims may be so emotionally invested that they overlook red flags and comply with the scammer’s demands.”

Australians lost over 33 Million dollars in 2023 to romance scams, with over 3,400 cases reported according to the latest data by Scam Watch.

The Australian Government’s The Scam Watch data also reveals almost 70% of those who have lost money to romance scams are women, and almost all of these scams are delivered via social media.

While scams are becoming more sophisticated, Australians are reminded that being cautious and vigilant with data and relationships online is the easiest way to avoid being swindled.

AUCloud has compiled six top tips for Aussies to avoid being caught up in romance scams.

AUCloud’s tips to avoid romance scams:

  1. Learn how to spot a fake profile

    Fakes are often new profiles, have a low number of photos, low number of friends, minimal engagement with other profiles.

  2. Reverse Image Search Photos

    Check the image by using Google’s free reverse image search to check the authenticity of photos or images. This will help tell you if they were used elsewhere on the internet.

  3. AI Image Detector

    AI Image Detectors are advanced tools that use artificial intelligence algorithms to analyse and interpret images. These detectors can serve various purposes, including identifying objects, recognising patterns and even detecting potential issues or anomalies in images.

  4. Check Online Scam Databases

    Websites like Scamwatch, Better Business Bureau (BBB) and others to see if others have reported similar fraudulent activities.

  5. Email Verification Services

    Use email verification services to check the legitimacy of an email address. Some services can verify whether an email address is associated with known scams or fraudulent activities.

  6. Never give money to people you don’t know