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FACTCHECK

Debunked: YouTube ads feature Elon Musk in deepfake videos pushing cryptocurrency scams

An AI-generated Irish newsreader was also used in one fraudulent video.

FRAUDULENT ADS HAVE been promoted on YouTube which feature deep-fake images of public figures pushing cryptocurrency trading schemes.

The videos, which have been seen hundreds of thousands of times, often claim that Elon Musk has created a supercomputer or an AI trade platform and needs investors to transfer an initial lump sum of money in the promise of guaranteed and substantial returns.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and more recently X (formerly Twitter), is the world’s richest person, according to Forbes

These ads feature AI-generated replicas of Musk and other celebrities, commonly known as “deepfakes”.

One such video features a manipulated image of Irish BBC newsreader Tadhg Enright, Elon Musk and American chat show host Bill Maher.

“All the European Union citizens no longer need to work”, the likeness of Enright says at the start of the video. “Elon said that each resident will be able to earn an income of €5,700 a day, no matter who you are, a housewife, a worker, or a waiter.”

The video then cuts to an apparent interview between Musk and Maher.

The characters in the AI-altered video appear to be wearing the same clothes that Musk and Maher wore on a real longform interview that was released earlier this year, indicating that footage from the real interview was used as a base for the deepfake. 

“Many celebrities and professional athletes are already using our platform,” the fake Musk says, “such as Roger Federer, Ed Sheeran, the singer Adele, and many others”.

Throughout the video, the language used by the fake celebrities is awkward, with incorrect grammar and unusual pronunciation uttered in syncopated, distorted voices.

“How much money can I earn if I earn your platform?” Maher asks at one point.

“As everyone knows, investment begins with an investment,” Musk responds. “But to start earning income, you will need at least €250. Now I will explain, step-by-step, how it works.”

Shane Raymond / YouTube

The video directs people to a URL: earningsenhancerpro.com, which was set up through an American registrar. 

The URL leads to a mock-up of the BBC news website which features only one story: about how Elon Musk bought a supercomputer “investment robot” that could be made available to anyone for a fee.

The website also featured supposed testimonials and comments from ‘Irish users’ who claim to have gotten rich from the scheme. 

Experts who spoke to The Journal confirmed the video as fake and explained how simple such videos are to create.

“This type of creation is EASY and cheap,” Kevin Baragona, the founder of DeepAI, an experimental AI Product Lab, emailed The Journal after examining the video.

“The technology is super widespread and common and there are both commercial and open source options for creating this type of content,” Baragona said, listing AI programmes to clone voices and alter videos.

“It’s becoming very common and will probably get more and more common until we reach some type of breaking point!”

Siwei Lyu, director of the University at Buffalo Media Forensics Lab told The Journal that the video was likely created by an created by an AI model that lipsync audio to videos. 

“There are some visual signs that such models may have created these videos. In particular, the teeth have an inconsistent appearance,” Lyu said in an email to The Journal that included screenshots from the video where teeth appeared to be partially missing. 

image (5) Siwei Lyu, Ph.D. Siwei Lyu, Ph.D.

“Our algorithm is trained to look for artifacts associated with AI-based lipsynching manipulations.” YouTube has policies forbidding scamsimpersonation, and “deceptive practices”, which include deep fakes.

The Journal contacted Google, the parent company of YouTube, about the video.

“We have strict policies that prohibit advertisers from promoting unreliable claims related to financial products or money making schemes,” a statement said.

“Upon review, we’ve removed the ad in question from serving and have taken appropriate enforcement action on the advertiser’s account.”

However, shortly after receiving this email, an ad that was presented on YouTube to our factchecker that featured another deepfake Elon Musk promoting a quantum computing trading platform that promises investors thousands a day.

While Musk’s apparent movements and speech in this new video were far smoother than the replica in the fake interview with Bill Maher, one glaring sign that the video is not genuine appears in the first sentence: Musk mispronounces his own name. 

Shane Raymond / YouTube

At the time of writing, that unlisted video used in the ad has more than 769,000 views.

Ironically, the ad appeared on Youtube against a video of a BBC report on a scam ad featuring a deepfaked version of BBC news presenter Sally Bundock.

The BBC’s broadcast on this scam — which was presented by the real Sally Bundock and featured a similar claim that Elon Musk has launched an investment platform — can be viewed on YouTube here.  

Scam ads featuring celebrities have become very common — The Journal has previously debunked ads featuring Anne Doyle, Tommy Bowe, Eamon Ryan and Tommy Tiernan — though these all used manipulated still images, rather than deepfaked videos.

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