True Crime Thursday – GoFundMe Scam

Photo credit – Marco Verch, CC 2.0

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In November, 2017, Katelyn McClure met a homeless veteran named Johnny Bobbitt when she ran out of gas on a Philadelphia highway. Bobbitt gave McClure his last twenty dollars. Grateful for his selfless generosity, McClure started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help the former Marine get back on his feet.

Their feel-good story went viral. Within three weeks, 14,000 people donated more than $400,000 to the campaign.

HEA (happily ever after), right?

Nope.

Turns out the entire story was a scam concocted by McClure and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico.  Although Bobbitt didn’t initiate the fraud, when donations skyrocketed, he joined their conspiracy.

In 2018, the plot thickened when Bobbitt sued McClure and D’Amico, claiming he had received only $75,000 from them out of the $400,000 raised for his benefit. McClure and D’Amico used the rest of the money on vacations, gambling, expensive handbags, and a BMW.

According to Military.com:

D’Amico attempted to justify withholding the money from the veteran because of Bobbitt’s purported struggle with drug addiction, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2018 that he’d rather “burn it in front of him” and that giving him the money would be like “giving him a loaded gun.” Though the couple told the paper that they had paid for a hotel room, electronics, food, clothing and eventually a camper for the veteran, they declined to provide receipts.

The unusual lawsuit drew the attention of prosecutors in Burlington, NJ, the NJ Department of Justice, and federal authorities.

During the investigation, a text from McClure came to light. Less than an hour after kicking off the GoFundMe campaign, Military.com reports that McClure messaged a friend:

“Ok so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t,” she said, according to New Jersey prosecutor Scott A. Coffina. “I had to make something up to make people feel bad.”

“So shush about the made up stuff,” she reportedly added.

Digging deeper, investigators found a similar scenario in Bobbitt’s past from a Facebook post in 2012 where he claimed that he’d given his supper money to a woman in need, garnering sympathy and donations.

The GoFundMe scam unraveled. Ultimately, all three pleaded guilty to state and federal charges.

D’Amico, 43, pleaded guilty to misappropriation of funds. In 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison on state charges, and 27 months for federal charges, sentences to be served concurrently.

In October, 2022, Bobbitt, 39, was sentenced to three years of probation for conspiracy to commit money laundering and ordered to pay $25,000 restitution. He was admitted to an addiction recovery program.

In January, 2023, McClure, 32, guilty of second-degree theft by deception, was sentenced to three years in state prison and is already serving time on a one year and one day sentence in federal prison. She was a former New Jersey state employee and is prohibited from holding any state job.

All were ordered to pay restitution to GoFundMe.

GoFundMe refunded all donations to contributors who were taken in by the fraudulent story.  

GoFundMe posts warnings on how to spot scams and frauds here.

Most people want to help others in need. Con artists prey on those generous, compassionate instincts.

Give from your heart but, first, investigate with your head.

~~~

TKZers: Do you check out people or organizations before you donate to them? How?

Have you heard of similar scams?

~~~

In Stalking Midas, a glamorous con artist takes advantage of an aging, addled millionaire who loves his nine rescue cats. She can’t allow investigator Tawny Lindholm to disrupt her profitable scam. After all, she’s killed before and each time it gets easier.

Buy at Amazon and major online booksellers.

True Crime Thursday – Thanksgiving Pie Survey

By

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson on Flickr

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving dinner without pie would be a True Crime.

So let’s take a pie poll. Which is the best: pumpkin, apple, pecan, sweet potato, mince, or something different? 

Please vote for your favorite pie and feel free to include the recipe, too! 

One of the many blessings I give thanks for is being part of the terrific Kill Zone community. 

Wishing you and yours a day filled with love, fellowship, and good food. 

True Crime Thursday – Tom Brady Super Bowl Rings

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

7-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady

 

Hey, psst! Wanna buy a Tom Brady Super Bowl ring?

The sports memorabilia market is estimated at $12.2 billion for 2021 with 15% annual growth anticipated for the next decade.

Collectibles don’t get much bigger than Tom Brady Super Bowl rings.

 

 

Scott V. Spina, 25, of Roseland, NJ, figured out a slippery way to cash in on that market. In 2017, he purchased a Super Bowl LI ring and memorabilia from a former Patriots’ player identified as “TJ.” Spina paid with a bad check and immediately sold the ring for $63,000 to a broker of championship rings in Orange County, CA. “TJ” was out of luck–no ring and no money.

Along with the ring, Spina had received information that allowed additional, smaller rings to be purchased for family members and friends of players.

Spina then contacted the Ring Company and claimed to be the player he’d purchased the ring from. He ordered additional rings engraved with the name “Brady” that were supposedly gifts for Brady’s baby.

Next, Spina went back to the Orange County broker and made an agreement to sell him three rings engraved with the “Brady” name, supposedly obtained from Brady’s nephews, for $81,500, nearly three times what Spina paid for the rings.

The broker became suspicious of the nephew story and withdrew from the deal. That probably didn’t bother Spina because, on November 17, 2017, the same day he took delivery of the “nephew” rings, he sold them to an auction house for $100,000. Three months later, one of the family rings was sold at auction for $337,219.

The FBI Art Crime Team investigated and Spina was charged with one count of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

On August 29, 2022, Spina was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution of $63,000 to “TJ,” the former Patriot player he bilked out of the original ring.

 

Risky plays can lead to being sacked.

 

 

 

~~~

 

In Stalking Midas, when investigator Tawny Lindholm uncovers fraud, a glamorous predator stalks her, ready to commit murder to protect her scam.

Buy at:

Amazon

Major online booksellers.

True Crime Thursday – Assault with a Deadly…Alligator?

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In 1967, alligators were close to extinction in the US and placed on the Endangered Species List. Under federal and state protection, the reptile population rebounded enough that they were removed from the list in 1987.

Alligators have recovered nicely, thank you very much. Nowadays, many people consider them pests because they’re found in swimming pools, on golf courses, and in carports. In Florida, special fencing was installed along interstates to keep them from wandering onto freeways.

There’s even a long-running reality TV series called “Swamp People” about professional gator hunters.

Florida’s gator hunting season runs from August 15 to November 1 with more than 7000 permits issued. Over this past Labor Day weekend, a woman caught this shot on I-95 in Brevard County and the photo went viral. Apparently, this hunter successfully filled his tag.

Deep-fried alligator tail is featured at many restaurants—the texture is similar to gristly Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles) with a fishy overtone. Neither is on my list of favorite delicacies.

An alligator was even used as a deadly weapon, according to Palm Beach County prosecutors.

Photo from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

In October, 2015, Joshua James, in his early 20s, picked up a live, three-foot-long alligator at the side of the road and tossed it in the back seat of his truck. At 1:30 a.m., he ordered a drink at the Wendy’s drive-through in Loxahatchee, Florida. When the cashier momentarily turned away, James added an unexpected tip—he tossed the gator through the open drive-up window and drove off.

He wasn’t caught for several months. When arrested in February, 2016, he admitted throwing the gator and claims he didn’t realize anyone would take his prank seriously. Apparently, he knew someone who worked at the restaurant and thought they would be there at the time.

James was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do less than murder” and “unlawful possession of alligator or parts,” both misdemeanors. Bond was set at $6000 with the condition he stay away from any animals except his mother’s dog.

Here’s an interview with James after he made bail.

According to his mother, Linda James: “It was just a stupid prank that he did that’s now turning into this. He’s a prankster. He does stuff like this because he thinks it’s funny.”

When asked if she thought the Wendy’s employees saw it as a prank, she replied, “Well, I mean, how could you not think something like that was a prank?”

Judge Barry Cohen didn’t agree. At trial in May, 2016, he told James, “In my view there is absolutely no excuse for taking an animal, particularly an alligator, and throwing it through a window at a total stranger.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, “David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, testified that the alligator, while under four feet in length, would still be ‘very powerful’ with extremely strong jaws.”

James apologized for his “stupid prank.” 

Judge Cohen sentenced James to a year of probation, $500 fine, and 75 hours community service.

No one was hurt in the incident, including the alligator. It was not called to testify and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers released it into a canal.

As the woman who took the viral gator photo said, “This is Floriduh.” 

~~~

TKZers: Have you heard of unusual weapons used in commission of crimes? Please share.

True Crime Thursday – Investigative Genealogy Solves Cold Cases

Harry Edward Greenwell

By Debbie Burke

 

Between 1987 and 1990, three women were sexually assaulted and murdered and one more was raped and left for dead in what were dubbed the “Days Inn/I-65 Murders” in Indiana and Kentucky.

The victims were all hotel clerks working the night shift. Vicki Lucille Heath, 41, was sexually assaulted and murdered on February 21, 1987 and her body found behind a trash bin. Two more victims, Margaret Mary “Peggy” Gill, 24, and Jeanne Gilbert, 34, were both sexually assaulted and killed four hours apart on March 3, 1989 at two different Days Inns in Indiana.

On January 2, 1990, a 21-year-old victim was sexually assaulted and stabbed but survived. She gave information to investigators that led to a composite drawing of the attacker.

Composite of I-65 Killer

Ballistic evidence and DNA connected the cases and indicated the same person committed all four attacks.

But who was he?

For more than 30 years, the cases went unsolved despite physical evidence…until the advent of the relatively new field of Investigative Genealogy.

According to the FBI:

Investigative Genealogy and combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes.

This technique involves uploading a crime scene DNA profile to one or more genetic genealogy databases in an attempt to identify a criminal offender’s genetic relatives and locate the offender within their family tree. Utilizing this process, a match was made to [Harry Edward] Greenwell with a close family member. Through this match, it was determined that the probability of Greenwell being the person responsible for the attacks was more than 99 percent.

Harry Edward Greenwell, born in 1944, had a long, violent criminal history beginning in 1963 and spent time in and out of various prisons for armed robbery, sodomy, and burglary. Following his release in 1983, he went to work for a railroad and worked on tracks throughout the Midwest.

Greenwell was married, had a family, and was well-liked in his Iowa community, selling organic produce at the local farmers market.

He died of cancer at age 68 in 2013 without ever being connected to the murders…until investigative genealogy identified him as the killer with 99.99% probability, based on links between DNA evidence and information about a close relative on genealogy sites.

In 2022, the FBI and the Indiana State Police announced Greenwell was the I-65 Killer, solving the crimes. Additionally, he is being investigated for similar cold case crimes.

After 30+ years, families of the four victims at last have closure, although not justice.

~~~

TKZers: Have you heard of using Investigative Genealogy to solve cold cases? Do you know of any?

~~~

 

Discover vital links between genealogy and DNA in three baffling cases in Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Until Proven Guilty.

Available at major booksellers at this link. 

True Crime Thursday – Federal Gas Relief

 

Photo credit: rock staar, unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Something for nothing is the bait that lures many people to fall for scams. Even more insidious are the ones that promise to solve a bona-fide problem. When there is pending legislation about that problem, the scam becomes even more convincing.

With skyrocketing gas prices, the stage is set for enterprising fraudsters who never let a good crisis go to waste.  

Attorney Steve Weisman, creator of Scamicide.com, is consistently on the forefront of new scams that surface faster than lawn mushrooms after a rain. (His alerts have spawned several True Crime Thursday posts and he graciously agreed to be quoted again.)

The latest scam he highlighted is the Federal Fuel Relief Program.

Except there is no such program.

The FTC reports an uptick in calls, emails, and texts supposedly from government representatives who offer rebates or relief checks to soften the impact of high gas prices.

According to Steve: “All you need do, they tell you, is provide some personal and financial information in order to be eligible for the program.”

Sounds simple, right? Simple for scammers to steal your information to commit further fraud.

Why do people continue to fall for these tricks? Because it’s increasingly confusing to parse out actual facts from the news/rumor mill.

It’s even more difficult when some municipalities are in fact paying out such rebates, as described in this article on GoBankingRates.com:

The city of Chicago has already started issuing some of the 50,000 prepaid $150 gas cards and 100,000 prepaid $50 transit cards approved by the city council.

North Carolina and California have pending legislation for similar measures. Californians could qualify for up to $1050 in relief.

The proposed Gas Rebate Act of 2022 is currently being discussed in the U.S House of Representatives, potentially with payments of $100/month or higher to qualified households during every month that average gas prices are above $4/gallon.

Photo credit: boopathi-rajaa-nedunchezhiyan-unsplash

Whether these or other proposals pass is up in the air. Some end up only being hot air.

But people often assume they’ve gone into effect. Next thing they know, that friendly, helpful “government employee” calls up, offering to expedite the process. Just verify your Social Security number and bank account number so they can direct-deposit the rebate.

Steve’s tagline is “Trust me, you can’t trust anybody.” That includes the caller ID that claims the IRS or Social Security is on the line or a link in an official-looking email or text that takes you to a fraudulent site masquerading as a government agency.

Scammers continue to refine their tactics and grow ever more sophisticated and convincing with their frauds.

Warn family and friends, particularly seniors who are prime targets, NEVER to give out personal information when someone calls, emails, or texts, without first verifying the sender is legitimate.

The Federal Fuel Relief Program is pure flatulence. The only relief is to hang up or hit delete.

~~~

TKZers: What’s the latest scam you or someone you know has been targeted by?

Feel free to share horror stories. The more we know, the less likely we are to be victimized.

~~~

 

Please check out my thriller Stalking Midas about a glamorous con artist who targets an addled millionaire with nine feral cats.

Amazon

Major online bookstores

True Crime Thursday – Instant Justice

Not the site of the actual crime. Photo credit: Eli Duke, CC by SA-2.0

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Oxford Languages defines the informal use of the word karma as “destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.”

Today’s True Crimes are two different cautionary tales of instant justice for wrongdoing, proving karma’s a b*tch.

According to this story by NPR, Joseph McKinnon learned that lesson the hard way. 

In May, 2022, Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, didn’t show up for work at the Mount Vintage Golf Club, North Augusta, SC. Concerned coworkers called her and left messages but she never answered.

Then deputies and paramedics received a report of a man who’d collapsed in his yard in Trenton, SC. They found Joseph McKinnon, 60, dead at the scene. There were no signs that his death was anything other than natural causes–a cardiac arrest.

While searching his home to find information to notify next-of-kin, deputies found blood.

McKinnon shared the house with Patricia Dent. There had been no previous police calls to the residence for domestic violence.

However, deputies soon realized Dent was missing and suspected foul play.

Their investigation led them to search the property where they found a large, recently-dug hole in the ground. Dent’s body, bound with tape and wrapped in trash bags, was in the pit, partially covered with soil. The coroner determined her death was a homicide by strangulation.

Evidence indicated McKinnon had strangled Dent inside the house then attempted to bury her body in the yard.

The effort of covering up his crime evidently triggered the cardiac event that killed the killer.

~~~

Here’s another case of karma on the other side of the world. In June, 2019, the Taiwan English News reported an unidentified dead man found head first in a hole in the Jiaboa public cemetery in Hemei Township, Changua County, Taiwan. A passerby saw legs sticking out of a hole in the ground and discovered a decomposing body.

The body was shirtless, wearing jeans, and described as a balding, middle-aged male with missing teeth. He was not identified.

Beside him was a shovel and tool case. The hole was directly above a coffin.

Police suspect he fell head first into the hole and suffocated while trying to rob a grave.

~~~

Karma’s a b*tch, all right.  

~~~

TKZers: do you know of any crimes where the punishment was especially appropriate and/or ironic? 

~~~

 

 

Irony and karma play roles in Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Until Proven Guilty, on sale for only $1.99 at major online booksellers at this link.

True Crime Thursday – Pee for Profit

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Did you ever think pee could lead to riches? Me neither.

However, the owners of Northwest Physicians Laboratory (NWPL) of Bellevue, OR, figured out a way that earned them millions of dollars before the feds caught them.

In April, 2022, Richard Reid, 53, of Astoria, OR, was convicted of five federal felonies resulting from his and his co-conspirators’ scheme to receive illegal kickbacks for lab tests on urine specimens.

According to U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, NWPL officers and Reid knew:

“…it was illegal to profit on tests conducted by his toxicology lab that were paid for by government insurance. The web of referrals and kick-backs increased profits for Reid and his co-conspirators, while inflating medical costs for the rest of us. This is essentially theft from taxpayers.”

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits physician-owned labs from profiting for services billed to Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE. A statement from the Department of Justice says:

“Paying remuneration to medical providers or provider-owned laboratories in exchange for referrals encourages providers to order medically unnecessary services.” 

How did NWPL’s scheme work?

Reid, VP of Sales, and his cohorts steered urine tests to other labs, resulting in payments from Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE of more than $6.5 million. Those labs then turned around and shared the ill-gotten gains with NWPL by paying them more than $3.7 million disguised as “marketing services.”

The scheme lasted from 2013 to 2015 until investigators uncovered it. In February, 2021, NWPL pled guilty and was sentenced to pay more than $8 million in restitution. The lab is now out of business.

NWPL’s CEO Jae Lee and Executive Director Kevin Puls pled guilty, along with Steve Verschoor, the head of a lab that paid kickbacks. In July, 2022, the co-conspirators will be sentenced and face up to five years in prison for each count.

Pee for profit sounded like a good idea at the time. After conviction, though, I suspect the conspirators might say, “Aw, p*iss on it!”

~~~

TKZers: Any thoughts on this scheme? Bad jokes welcome.

~~~

 

 

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Binge-read all SEVEN books in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series, only $.99 each through May 30. 

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A World Filled With Ideas

I often have the opportunity present talks and workshops here in Texas, and recently a lady raised her hand when I asked for questions or comments. “So where do you get your ideas for these novels you’ve written?”

“They’re all around us. I draw from the news, recollections, personal experiences, stories I’ve heard, and people who are great story tellers.”

“I never see anything I could put in a book, even if I could write.”

I laughed and told her about the Florida experience below.

The story in a nutshell.

I flew to St. Petersburg a few years ago and while driving to Sarasota in my rent car, heard two angry men exchange words. Only a mile later, I came across a beached sailboat full of drunks who were arguing with other inebriated individuals who’d been enjoying a quiet day on the sand.

I took what I saw and added some imagination…and the following paragraphs are the result of that question.

After flying down to St. Petersburg for a writers conference a few years ago, I rented a cherry red convertible and joined hundreds of cars headed south to Sarasota along Highway 41. That gulf coast ribbon of highway was stiff with vehicles, forcing us to proceed at school zone speed.

Except for the bumper to bumper cars and trucks, it would have been a peaceful drive down the old highway. The flow of traffic passing colorful old buildings, neat little vintage 1950s trailer parks, and palm-ridden mid-century motels kept me locked into place from one red light to the next.

At still another red light under a bright blue sky, I was startled when an angry, red-faced guy with a head bald as a cue ball pointed his finger in my direction and shouted over his female companion and through her open window. “Hey, you dread-headed fool! Get off your phone and pay attention to the damned highway. You’re all over the lanes!”

Startled by his verbal attack I had to study on what he said. I hadn’t been on my phone, so I knew he wasn’t shouting at me. Oh, and I don’t have dreads anyway.

A voice from my right yelled through his own open window. “Shut the hell up!”

I turned right to see a man with long dreads responding with vigor.

“The Bible says the word fool is the worst insult you can use, fool! And besides, it’s a free country! You and your mama need to mind y’own dayum business.”

Incensed, the woman beside Bald Guy immediately became enraged. “I’m not his mama, I’m his wife!”

Thinking I was kinda right there with Dreads’ unfortunate observation, my eyebrows raised when Bald Guy yanked the handle of his car and roared from the vehicle like an attack dog. “This free country you’re talking about gives me the right to come over there and knock your #@&%ing head off!”

The light changed and I drove off from between the combatants, leaving them to their philosophical, observational, and constitutional discussions.

The road forked half a mile later and I took the two-lane hugging the beach lined with palm trees. It wasn’t five minutes before I came up on a sailboat full of tanked partygoers heeled over in the shallow water directly in front of a beach packed with young sunbathers.

Traffic slowed even more, as drivers tried to watch what was happening. The pace was so slow that an ambitious turtle could have passed us without breaking a sweat, giving me the opportunity to absorb the scene in its entirety.

An equally sloshed and obviously visually impaired young man sitting on the sand with his girlfriend pointed and shouted. “Get that damned boat out of here!”

The mast stuck out over the beach, and the vessel’s annoyed occupants milled around the deck on a thirty degree slant. Again, a red light brought me to a stop in the middle of two armies so mad they could spit at each other.

“Can’t you see I’m trying for God’s sake!” A guy on the tilted deck braced his feet on the rail. “Whatta ya’ want me to do, get out and drag the sonofabitch back into deep water?”

A young woman barely covered by three Dorito-size triangles of thin blue material stood on her towel as if afraid of getting sand on her feet. “I don’t care how the hell you do it! Just get it out of here, you’re ruining our view!”

One of the many young men on the sailboat tilted a liquor bottle to his lips and swallowed before verbalizing his own opinion of the situation. “The view ain’t half bad from here.”

“I’ll ruin your ass!” A young man in colorful jams charged the listing sailboat.

The boat’s passenger with the view chucked an unopened can of beer at his attacker but missed and hit a previously uninvolved guy sitting on the sand.

In response, the offended beachgoer picked up the beer, and for some confounding reason, opened it before firing it back at the boat like a rocket. It struck the cockpit coaming right beside a young female passenger, spraying her tiny bathing suit with foam.

The return fire angered one of her other companions who then heaved another full beer at the beachgoers. By the time the light turned green, the air was filled with a barrage of glittering cans arcing in the sun.

The last thing I saw as the light changed was a young man on the beach, throwing handfuls of ice at the shipwrecked crew that was returning the frozen salvo with empty liquor bottles.

A landlubber woman shrieked. “No glass on the beach for chrissakes!”

And the battle faded into my rearview mirror as I resumed my pleasant drive to Sarasota.

Where do plots, characters, and ideas come from?

They’re all around us. Authors simply need to grab one and ask themselves…what if, and expand on that two-word question.

 

True Crime Thursday – DEEPFAKES

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.

This saying has been around for centuries, variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allen Poe.

Today, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), you can no longer believe anything you hear or see.

That’s because what your ears hear and what your eyes see could be a DEEPFAKE.

What is a deepfake? Wikipedia says:

…synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness. While the act of faking content is not new, deepfakes leverage powerful techniques from machine learning and artificial intelligence to manipulate or generate visual and audio content with a high potential to deceive. The main machine learning methods used to create deepfakes are based on deep learning and involve training generative neural network architectures, such as autoencoders or generative adversarial networks (GANs).

Deepfakes have garnered widespread attention for their uses in creating child sexual abuse material, celebrity pornographic videosrevenge pornfake newshoaxes, bullying, and financial fraud. This has elicited responses from both industry and government to detect and limit their use.

 

I wrote about AI three years ago. Since then, technology has progressed at warp speed.

The first recognized crime that used deepfake technology occurred in 2019 with voice impersonation.

The CEO of an energy business in the UK received an urgent call from his boss, an executive at the firm’s German parent company. The CEO recognized his boss’s voice…or so he thought. He was instructed to immediately transfer $243,000 to pay a Hungarian supplier. He followed orders and transferred the money.

The funds went into a Hungarian account but then disappeared to Mexico. According to the company’s insurer, Euler Hermes, the money was never recovered.

To pull off the heist, cybercriminals used AI voice-spoofing software that perfectly mimicked the boss’s tone, speech inflections, and slight German accent.

Such spoofing extends to video deceptions that are chilling. The accuracy of movement and gesture renders the imposter clone indistinguishable from the real person. Some research shows a fake face can more believable than the real one.

Security safeguards like voice authentication and facial recognition are no longer reliable.

A November 2020 study by Trend Micro, Europol, and United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute concludes:

The Crime-as-a-Service (CaaS) business model, which allows non-technologically savvy criminals to procure technical tools and services in the digital underground that allow them to extend their attack capacity and sophistication, further increases the potential for new technologies such as AI to be abused by criminals and become a driver of crime.

We believe that on the basis of technological trends and developments, future uses or abuses could become present realities in the not-too-distant future.

The not-too-distant future they mentioned in 2020 is here today. A person no longer needs to be a sophisticated expert to create fake video and audio recordings of real people that defy detection.

In the following YouTube, a man created a fake image of himself to fool coworkers into believing they were video-chatting with the real person. It’s long—more than 18 minutes—but watching even a few minutes demonstrates how simple the process is.

Consider the implications:

What if you could appear to be in one place but actually be somewhere else? Criminals can create their own convincing alibis.

If corrupt law enforcement, government entities, or political enemies want to frame or discredit someone, they manufacture video evidence that shows the person engaged in criminal or abhorrent behavior.

Imagine the mischief terrorists could cause by putting words in the mouths of world leaders. Here are some examples: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/01/business/pentagons-race-against-deepfakes/

Deepfakes could change history, creating events that never actually happened. Check out this example made at MIT of a fake Richard Nixon delivering a fake 1969 speech to mourn astronauts who supposedly perished on the moon. Fast forward to 4:18.

How was this software developed?

It arose from Machine Learning (ML). The process involves pitting computers against one another to see which one most accurately reproduces expressions, gestures, and voices from real people. The more they compete with each other, the better they learn, and the more authentic their fakes become.

A fanciful imagining of a contest might sound like this.

Computer A: “Hey, look at this Jack Nicholson eyebrow quirk I mastered.”

Computer B: “That’s nothing. Samuel L. Jackson’s nostril flare is much harder. Bet yours can’t top mine.”

Computer A: “Oh yeah? Check out how I made Margaret Thatcher to cross her legs just like Sharon Stone.”

The Europol study further outlined ways that deepfakes could be used for malicious or criminal purposes:

Destroying the image and credibility of an individual,

Harassing or humiliating individuals online,

Perpetrating extortion and fraud,

Facilitating document fraud,

Falsifying online identities and fooling KYC [Know Your Customer] mechanisms,

Falsifying or manipulating electronic evidence for criminal justice investigations,

Disrupting financial markets,

Distributing disinformation and manipulating public opinion,

Inciting acts of violence toward minority groups,

Supporting the narratives of extremist or even terrorist groups, and

Stoking social unrest and political polarization

 

In the era of deepfakes, can video/audio evidence ever be trusted again?

~~~

A big Thank You to TKZ regular K.S. Ferguson who suggested the idea for this post and provided sources.

~~~

TKZers: Can you name books, short stories, or films that incorporate deepfakes in the plot? Feel free to include sci-fi/fantasy from the past where the concept is used before it existed in real life.

Please put on your criminal hat and suggest fictional ways a bad guy could take advantage of deepfakes.

Or put on your detective hat and offer solutions to thwart the evil-doer.

~~~

 

Debbie Burke’s characters are not created by Artificial Intelligence but rather by her real imagination. 

Please check out her latest Tawny Lindholm Thriller. 

Until Proven Guilty is for sale at major booksellers here.