Online scams: will AI increase the hidden cost on consumers?
Euroconsumers and its Portuguese member, Deco Proteste, successfully hosted the fourth annual Global Anti-Scam Summit on October 18-19 in Lisbon. Organized by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance, this major gathering saw big tech platforms, inter-governmental agencies, police enforcers, cybersecurity hubs, academics and consumer organizations come together to strategize ways to turn the tide on online consumer scams.
That’s why Euroconsumers sits down with Professor Jorij Abraham, the head of the Global Anti-Scam Alliance, a man on a mission to create a world where people are safe from the financial and emotional trauma caused by online scams.
Apart from losing money, what is the impact of scams on people?
This is something my colleague, Sam Rogers, and I were discussing this earlier week. Beyond financial loss, scams can have a profound psychological impact, and this is something that is not talked about enough. While the financial losses and methods of scam delivery often make the headlines, victims are left isolated with feelings of shame, guilt, and decreased trust in their own judgment. The loss of confidence in digital platforms can also alienate individuals from beneficial online services. The devastating emotional toll can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. In the saddest cases, some scam victims see no way out and take their own lives. This is something that we hope comes to the front of people’s minds when dealing with someone who has suffered a loss to a scam. They may be putting on a brave face, but they need to know that we support them and understand what they are going through.
What new scams have surprised you the most recently?
One of the more sophisticated scams we’ve seen lately involves deepfake technology. This AI-driven approach can create highly convincing fake videos and audio recordings, making it challenging to discern real communications from scams. We’ve also observed an increase in scams that exploit personal data breaches, where scammers use detailed personal information to gain trust and defraud victims. A concerning aspect of this is the growing accessibility of the technology. There are countless browser-based deepfake services with free trials that enable anyone to make a convincing deepfake in less time than it takes to complete this interview.
Are we seeing more AI-enabled scams?
AI-enabled scams are definitely on the rise, and their sophistication poses a significant threat to consumers. These scams can tailor phishing messages that are incredibly convincing and personalized, increasing the likelihood of deceiving even the most cautious individuals. It means consumers need to be ever more vigilant and informed about the evolving nature of scams. One way to mitigate this is through enhanced education; however, there is a pressing need for further action from law enforcement, platforms, and other relevant entities.
Are there certain groups of people who are particularly vulnerable to scams, and have AI-assisted scams changed this?
Traditionally, there has been a stereotype of scam victims, focusing largely on the elderly and those who are not-so digitally savvy. However, with the rapid spread of AI, we’re seeing a shift away from that paradigm. Now, even tech-experts can get caught out by scams due to the increasingly sophisticated AI-fraud. AI can analyze a person’s online behavior and craft highly personalized scam approaches, blurring the lines between genuine and fraudulent interactions. Perhaps the most terrifying, people are being called up by their loved ones, only to discover later that their loved one never called and asked for urgent financial help. When society gets to the point where you can’t trust that your wife, mother, son or daughter is really who they say they are, we are crossing into an unnerving and uncharted territory.
How soon will it be before AI scams are impossible to spot?
It’s becoming increasingly challenging to spot AI scams and consumers have been thrust into the dawn of more sophisticated AI relatively suddenly. However, I don’t believe we are heading towards a future where nothing online can be trusted. Instead, we’re moving towards a more sophisticated defense, including AI-powered tools to detect and block these scams. The one thing humans still have over AI is originality in creativity. We are able to adapt and overcome, and I believe that we will continue to do so in the face of any challenges thrown at us in this new world of AI. Importantly, we must ensure that education and awareness resources are given what they need to help consumers stay ahead of scammers
Can enforcers and platforms fight scams created and delivered by AI or are we in new territory?
Enforcers and platforms are adapting, some more than others, but it’s a race against time. AI scams are indeed taking us into new territory, demanding innovative approaches and technologies. Collaboration between law enforcement, cybersecurity experts, and platform operators is essential. Leveraging AI and machine learning in defense strategies will be key to identifying and combating these sophisticated scams. An important point, regardless of whether a scam is AI-driven, is that industries need to unite. Where they may have traditionally regarded each other as rivals in a space, they now have a common enemy in scammers. A good example of a step in the right direction is the Australian banking sector fully uniting by mid-2024 under the Scam-Safe Accord, which will allow them to efficiently share information about scams and scammers exploiting their accounts.
What do you see as the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the GASA network as it attempts to turn the tide on scams?
The biggest challenge for GASA is staying ahead of the rapidly evolving scam tactics, especially those driven by AI and other emerging technologies. Our biggest strength lies in the network itself, the opportunity for global collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and resources. By uniting the expertise and experiences, the GASA network will spearhead effective global strategies to mitigate the impact of scams and protect consumers worldwide. We had a successful 2023 in that regard, holding our 4th Global Anti-Scam Summit in Portugal, followed by the 1st Anti-Scam Asia Summit in Taiwan. Our goal in 2024 is to expand these efforts to become truly global. Our plans include holding three summits by staging an additional event on a third continent; the establishment of GASA chapters around the world, beginning with Brazil and Singapore; and as always, we endeavor to build the network further and support the numerous sectors who are stepping into the anti-scamming world.