Fraudsters using AI make romance fraud scams harder to spot, Sheffield police chief warns

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The advice for how to spot and avoid a romance fraud scam has quickly become outdated due to the rise of artificial intelligence, a Sheffield police chief has warned.

Romance fraud occurs when a victim is duped into thinking they have met the perfect partner online either through a dating app or social media, but the perpetrator is not who they say they are, and are, in fact, hiding behind a fake profile or false identity.

It is one factor which has contributed towards the growth of fraud across the country, which Sheffield’s new District Commander, Chief Superintendent Jamie Henderson, says now accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all crime reports made.

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Fraud now accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all crime reports madeFraud now accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all crime reports made
Fraud now accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all crime reports made | 3rd party

Data released by Action Fraud last year, revealed that romance fraudsters had conned people in South Yorkshire out of £839,100 during the course of just one year, with a total of 132 scams reported.

Chf Supt Henderson has revealed how the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) - which allows fraudsters to assume another person’s appearance during video calls such as FaceTime - means it is becoming increasingly difficult to spot scammers, and has rendered previous methods for avoiding this type of fraud redundant.

He explained: “Some of the advice previously was if they're not going to FaceTime you they’re probably not real.

“Unfortunately with the way AI is now, there are things out there where people can use AI and it will come across as being completely real. They will Face Time you and it will just mimic the movements of their face in terms of voice and the facial features but it will just put somebody else's head on it.

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“And often we hear things about ‘I'm a member of the army. I'm serving in a foreign country’. And you will see some of the avatars that go on the FaceTime videos.

“And it just appears to be a genuine member of the Armed Forces that are speaking to someone.”

“I was in a conference around cyber crime relatively recently and they were presenting on some of these AI tools that are in existence, that are being used by scammers now.

“So the age old advice around if they're not going to FaceTime yet, then they’re probably not real. That's gone out of the water now because AI and technology has surpassed that.”

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Offering advice on how to avoid becoming the victim of a romance fraudster, Chf Supt Henderson continued: “My advice is just be really cautious, albeit some of these relationships could be genuine.

“Just do not send money to someone that you've met online and you've never met in person.”

“I think a lot of these online relationships, where you've not met these people and you've been approached and you're being asked to send money to someone to help them pay a bill to get over to the country or to be able to send something to you. Absolutely avoid those scams that all costs because they are scams and they are people that are trying to illicit money out of you.

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“And then when they've got that hook in, they will continue to try and get more money out of you. Because that's all they’re bothered about, getting money out of a victim, they’re not bothered about a relationship.

“And however much they might invest hours on the phone call - and they do - they’re just interested in getting a few thousand pounds out of you.”