AI-Generated Obituaries Are Flooding the Web. How the Scam Works

obituary example

We do indeed live in a post-truth society and scammers are taking advantage of all the confusion generated by AI. 

A new report in The Verge talks about the rise of AI-generated obituaries and the scams they enable – a troubling phenomenon that will only get bigger.

The report talks to one victim of a fake obituary, Brian Vastag. After his former wife died, the web was flooded with fake, AI-generated obituaries that claimed both her and himself had passed on. Even worse, some of those obituaries were uploaded to YouTube, where strangers read them aloud and turned them into YouTube content.

So, what’s going on?

Brian Vastag explains one way the scam works, and it makes a lot of sense. He suspects the robots crawling the web for information got stuck on an op-ed he had written with his wife. Then, the AI, being artificial and not that intelligent, used that co-author byline and the article contents to generate the fake obituary.

As The Verge notes, fake obituaries are nothing new and have been a problem for Google for years now. 

However, with the advent of generative AI and the explosion in tools that can generate content, both text and video, that problem has become widespread. Dubbed “obituary scraping,” the practice used to involve people going through news articles in order to create obituaries with clickbait titles. 

Then, they’d monetize that content, whether a simple web page or a YouTube video, by peppering it with ads. In some cases, they’d be selling fake services like sending flowers or gifts to the bereaved family.

Unfortunately, Google has done little to stop the practice, as it abuses some of the signals the search engine uses to surface correct search results. 

In the case of Mr Vastag though, he reported his own fake obituaries but Google would do nothing about it. The company sent him back a canned response saying the sites didn’t violate its policies, so they wouldn’t be removed. 

Also read: New Study Explains Why Google Search Results Are So Terrible

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