Transnational company lost HK$200 million ($26 million) due to scammers who took deepfake technology to a new level. The attackers managed to convince an employee of the company’s Hong Kong office to transfer the specified amount using a fake group video call, in which a fake financial director and several company employees participated using a deepfake.
The police noted that this was the first case of this kind in Hong Kong, and involving a large amount. According to Acting Senior Superintendent of the Crime Bureau Baron Chan Shun-ching, in previous cases, scammers defrauded victims through one-on-one video calls.
“This time, during a video conference with the participation of several people, everyone who could be seen turned out to be fakes,” he said, adding that scammers were able to create convincing images of target individuals that looked and sounded like real people.
An employee in the finance department of a branch of the company told police that he received a phishing email in mid-January, apparently from the company’s finance director in the UK, saying that a secret transaction needed to be carried out. At first, this caused him doubts, which were dispelled by a group video conference held by the scammers, at which he saw the financial director, as well as other employees of the company. According to the victim, the company employees participating in the conference call looked and sounded like real people. The scammers then kept in touch with the victim through instant messaging platforms, email and one-on-one video calls.
As a result, he, following the instructions of the fake manager, made 15 transfers totaling HK$200 million to five bank accounts in Hong Kong. A week later, the employee began to suspect something was wrong and contacted the company’s head office.
As a result of their investigation, police determined that the participants in the video conference were digitally recreated by fraudsters who used publicly available video and audio recordings of these individuals. “They used deepfake technology to imitate the voice of their victims reading the text,” – Chan noted.
He said that the scammers tried to approach several more company employees from other branches, but refused to provide details of the circumstances of the case. The investigation into this case is still ongoing.
Chief Inspector Tyler Chan Chi-wing said there were several ways to check whether a person appearing on screen was a digital fake. He suggested asking the interlocutor to make head movements, as well as ask questions that would allow us to determine the authenticity of the character, and immediately be vigilant if he asks to transfer money.
Police said they would expand their alert system to include a fast payment system to alert users when they are transferring money to accounts linked to fraud.