Fake death scams: AI-generated death announcements are popping up for people who are very much alive

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Obituaries for author Deborah Vankin appeared online in January, complete with photos and flattering Prose

In videos accompanying the announcements, “news anchors” discussed her death and used background images of a car wreck, a casket leaving a funeral home and a glowing candle next to her portrait.

They did not say when or how he died.

“Deborah Vankin, a respected journalist whose eloquent stories and insightful narratives illuminated the world around us, has died,” one of the obituaries wrote.

But Venken was very much alive, scrolling through news and videos of her death on her cellphone after they were posted.

Unbeknownst to her, Venkin had become the latest victim of scammers who fake death announcements to get clicks and ad revenue.

Some so-called “death pirates” are turning to AI to generate obituaries with keywords for Google searches, spreading alarm and misinformation, experts said.

That January morning, as Venkin read about his death while sitting in the waiting room of a Santa Monica hospital where a friend was undergoing surgery, he felt a whirlwind of emotions.

Ricardo D’Artenha/Los Angeles Times

Deborah Vanken: “Reading about your own death is a surreal experience.”

“I was strangely not panicked. I was mostly confused at first, then angry,” Vankin, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, told CNN.

“I was sad – reading about your own death is a surreal experience. After talking to the experts, I was scared for myself, for all the journalists and for my society.

Google announced new policies this month to kill clickbait and other spammy, low-quality content out of search results. But for a few weeks this year, Venken was among a group of people who faced their own mortality as false reports of their deaths spread online. Experts warn that growing AI technology will only make these troubling scenarios worse.

Joshua Klopfenstein, co-founder of Lindenwood Marketing, said death scams have been around for ages, but fraudsters mostly focus on impersonating funeral homes to get cash from grieving families.

He added that clickbait obituaries like Wankins are a sophisticated diversion that fuels the popularity and proliferation of low-quality, AI-generated content.

Obits are posted on sites that publish a continuous stream of unrelated articles on random topics. They don’t contain a lot of information, but they are packed with keywords so that people can take advantage of what they are searching for on Google.

Venken learned of his death from his father, he said, after he was alerted to it by an aunt who gets Google updates every time his name appears online. In an article written for the Los Angeles Times, Vankin expressed his reluctance to read obituaries. And how the experience changed how she thinks about death.

Retrieved from CNN

An AI-generated obituary for Deborah Vankin circulated online earlier this year.

He said he’s not sure how the scammers picked him to kill, but he believes it’s because of the increase in online traffic on the piece he posted while driving on the freeway. He wrote about his problem.

She said the fraudsters probably thought she would get more views for her content because she is a writer and is thriving on social media.

Klopfenstein said the scammers’ rationale for targeting the dead makes financial sense to them.

“These fraudsters are correct in understanding the amount of traffic,” he said, “for most funeral home websites, 80% to 85% of all visitors are to the deceased. That said, a scammer needs a ton of pearl pirates … to get enough traffic to generate significant ad revenue.

A spate of sketchy condolence messages has made headlines in recent months, with people sharing similar hoaxes on Reddit and other social media platforms featuring dead relatives or people who are still alive. are alive

Google said it is constantly updating its systems to limit spam and combat spammers’ evolving techniques.

“With our recent updates to our search spam policies, we’ve significantly reduced the presence of death spam in search results,” a Google spokesperson told CNN. “At YouTube, we fight this content by strictly enforcing our spam, deceptive practices and fraud policies.”

The new policies target spam and low-quality content to ensure they don’t rank on searches. “They are largely developed with the primary intent of gaming search rankings, and offer little value to users,” Google posted on a blog detailing the changes.

Brian Vastag’s former partner, Beit Mazur, committed suicide in December. Days later, after the co-founder of an organization Mazur posted a message about his death, at least six obituaries appeared on random sites claiming the two men had died.

Wastag, who lives in Kapa’a, Hawaii, was on his way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Mazur died, when he saw news of her death circulating online. Wastag said the fake obits pushed the real ones further down in web searches, making it harder for Mazur’s wide network of friends to find accurate information.

Vestag and Mazur advocated for people who were often overlooked and wrote essays together, and they believe that this is how the Death Pirates managed to connect them.

Thanks to Brian Wastag

Brian Vastag: “The internet has turned into a pile of nonsense. There’s a lot of misinformation.”

“The recent deaths of Beth Mazur and Brian Wastag, both struggling with the challenges of chronic fatigue syndrome, serve as a poignant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity”

News of his death caused confusion among a few friends who believed the reports were genuine.

“I was dealing with the trauma of losing someone and I was really worried that the people who died about me caused some stress,” Vestag said. “At least three or four people thought it was real.”

After Google implemented its new spam policy, most scams for Venkin and Wastag no longer show up in searches.

Earlier this year, pirates also spread misinformation about Matthew Suchman, who died in an accident on the New York City subway tracks. According to a New York Times report, fraudsters filled the search results with hoaxes, including a claim that she had been stabbed to death.

The newspaper traced one origin of false reports to an internet marketer in India. He told reporters he did not know Suchman, but monitored Google’s trending data for words such as “death,” “accident” and “death” and used an AI tool to create a blog post. which generates a few cents per month in advertising. Income.

Fake pearl testimonies are cheap and easy to make, the expert says.

Robert Wahl, an associate professor of computer science at Concordia University Wisconsin and an expert in AI technology, said creating fake pearls is as easy as asking an AI to generate some facts about a person.

“The start-up costs for this are very low. You can use free services available on the Internet. And you can build it at no cost. And it can pay some income, so there’s an incentive to do it. There is encouragement,” he told CNN.

He added that some fraudsters apparently work from abroad, earning minimal income to cover their living expenses. Its international aspect adds another layer of complexity, with the laws of other countries making it difficult to prosecute scammers.

“It may or may not be illegal in all countries. So the challenging situation is trying to determine whether it’s an illegal activity — even though it’s certainly done in poor taste,” he said. “And so it’s mostly something we can’t avoid. We just have to learn to identify fraud.”

Retrieved from CNN

Fraudsters claim that Brian Wastag died alongside his former partner, Beit Mazur.

Vastag hopes her story will empower people to understand online consumers and be aware of where they are getting information.

“The Internet has turned into a pile of nonsense. There’s a lot of misinformation and information pollution,” he said.

Vankin, a Los Angeles Times writer, said the experience reminded him to be grateful for his life.

“It’s not hard Thinking about your own death when something like that happens,” he said. “I can’t say I wanted to make a big change in my life right now – which is a good sign. But I have bucket list travel plans – it caught fire.

It also makes him aware that one day, his true death will happen. And when it does, he said, he hopes it will. Be written by a real person.

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