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Criminals are Using AI Tools Like Chatgpt to Con Shoppers. Here’s How to Spot Scams

By: Megan Cerullo

Cybercriminals tend to pounce on shoppers around the holidays, posing as retailers offering deep discounts in order to capture consumers’ spending on gifts. This year, scammers based in the U.S. and abroad have a new tool at their disposal that’s helping to upgrade their efforts: ChatGPT, the generative artificial intelligence chatbot that can mimic human speech and perform a variety of tasks.

Cybersecurity experts note that they’ve detected a recent uptick in sophisticated AI-generated spam messages, making it harder for consumers to differentiate between legitimate deals and scams.

“Unfortunately, criminals are getting much better at writing English. ChatGPT is a big help for them in crafting messages,” Michael Bordash, senior vice president of Syniverse, a telecom company, told CBS MoneyWatch. “You don’t have to be a proficient English speaker to have ChatGPT write a campaign for you.”

Tools like ChatGPT can also help criminals target victims in their native languages, making them more effective at engaging their targets.

Additionally, a criminal that once had the bandwidth to devise a single campaign can more easily replicate their attacks.

“They can use ChatGPT to take a campaign they’ve used before and tell it to come up with five variants,” Bordash said.

Battle of bots

Syniverse also uses AI to detect a wide range of scams, from criminals imitating logistics companies and generating fake shipping messages in order to steal bank information to those hawking counterfeit goods.

“It’s the battle of the bots. We employ similar tools to combat utilization and detect sources like this,” Bordash said.

Logistics supply scams are common this season, experts noted. Many times consumers will receive messages or notifications from bad actors impersonating shippers like UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. The messages typically say that the consumer is due to receive a package that is delayed and encourage them to hand over personal information.

“They get their targets to think,’Oh I need to go the website and provide information to get the package released.’ But there is no package,” said Bordash. “It’s a scheme to get your home address and maybe your credit card information to pay an expedition fee to get your package delivered. They’re very clever because all these gifts are coming in.”

Spotting fraud

You can spot these kinds of scams by looking for spelling errors and URLs that don’t match. Also beware of any sender who tries to create a sense of urgency by writing things like: “You must authorize this package immediately or it will be returned to the sender.”

“Anything that demands your attention immediately, you have to take a breath and wait a second before responding,” Bordash said.

Scammers also create fraudulent ads, featuring images of popular products from legitimate brands, which they often run on social media platforms. The fake deals often appear too good to be true and say they won’t last for long.

“You’re in a hurry to secure the best deals before they sell out and scammers are hoping to capitalize on your FOMO,” said Sandro Okropiridze, a marketing expert and co-founder and CEO of branding app Stori. “Look out for ads that mimic legitimate brands, which lead to fake websites with unbelievable deals. They’re designed to hurry you to check out before you realize you’re being scammed.”

Indeed fraudsters are preying on consumers’ appetite for deals and growing proclivity to shop for everything from groceries to electronics online.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to buy directly from the source, as opposed to a third-party seller, according to Saleem Alhabash, advertising professor and researcher at Michigan State University’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection.

“Or go to the actual brick and mortar store,” he said.

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