HK cops encounter fraud syndicate that used AI-generated images

KUALA LUMPUR: Hong Kong police crippled a fraud syndicate that used artificial intelligence (AI) to create doctored images for loan scams targeting banks and money-lenders.

Superintendent Dicken Ko Tik of the cyber security and technology crime bureau was reported saying on Aug 25 that it was the first time police had discovered scammers employing the so-called deepfake technology to deceive financial institutions.

“The racket used an AI face- changing programme, commonly known as deepfake technology, to apply for loans online with financial institutions,” he said.

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According to police, the syndicate used eight stolen Hong Kong identity cards and bogus documents, including proof of address and income, to apply for loans online.

As financial institutions required applicants to scan and upload their identification documents as well as provide real-time selfies during the online application process, Ko said scammers utilised AI-generated images to mimic people on the stolen identity cards.

He said an investigation revealed that the syndicate made at least 20 online loan applications using the technology in a bid to deceive facial recognition systems used by money-lenders to verify applicant identities.

He added that one of the 20 applications that was approved involved a loan of HK$70,000 (RM42,050).

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The deepfake scam has prompted police to offer recommendations to related financial institutions to upgrade their anti-fraud measures.

“We will continue to engage with stakeholders from various industries to bring cyber criminals hiding in the digital world to justice,” he was quoted by the South China Morning Post on Aug 25.

On top of the 20 cases involving AI-generated images, police said the syndicate also used the eight stolen identity cards to apply for 70 other loans and 54 bank accounts with 20 different banks and money-lending companies between September 2022 and July this year.

Ko said the syndicate also used the stolen identity cards to register for more than 30 prepaid SIM cards.

In April and May, the fraudsters used the SIM cards to send out more than 7,200 phishing messages, tricking residents into providing credit card information by falsely offering shopping reward points, he said.

After gathering evidence, police arrested four men and two women in a series of raids in Kowloon Bay, Diamond Hill, Yau Ma Tei, Lai Chi Kok and North Point on Aug 24.

The suspects, aged 31 to 50, were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.

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