AI-based deepfake fraud case: Kerala cyber police expand probe to Goa, seek assistance from WhatsApp

A case has been registered in this regard under Section 420 of the IPC and Sections 66D and 66C of the Information Technology Act.

BySreerag PS

Published Jul 26, 2023 | 8:00 AM Updated Jul 26, 2023 | 8:00 AM

The swindled amount, ₹40,000, was initially sent to a man in Gujarat, before forwarding it to a trading company in Panjim. (Representational image/Unsplash)

The Kozhikode cyber police have expanded their probe into an alleged Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based deepfake WhatsApp fraud — believed to be the country’s first using this technology — to Goa.

An investigation team left for Panjim on Monday, 24 July, to collect evidence to charge the yet-to-be-arrested fraudsters.

The police said the swindled amount, ₹40,000, was initially sent to a man in Gujarat, before being forwarded to a trading company in Goa’s capital Panaji.

Investigators have written to WhatsApp officials to ascertain if deepfake technology was used to cheat a retired Union government official.

Related: Cybercrimes record an increase of over 25 percent in Hyderabad

The AI fraud case

Investigating officer (IO) Dinesh Koroth said a phone call woke up the victim, PS Radhakrishnan of Chalapuram in Kozhikode, early on 9 July.

The caller, who claimed to be a former colleague from Andhra Pradesh, requested Radhakrishnan a loan of  ₹40,000 to meet his sister’s medical expenses.

“Initially, Radhakrishnan did not pick up the call as he was asleep. He received several WhatsApp messages stating the person’s sister was undergoing treatment. Although Radhakrishnan suspected fraud since the number was not familiar, he became somewhat convinced when the man came on a video call,” Koroth told South First.

The man said he was using a new number since he was in Dubai. The caller also named some of their common friends.

Since the visual and audio matched that of his friend, a convinced Radhakrishnan transferred ₹40,000.

However, when the “friend” requested another ₹35,000, he grew suspicious and contacted his colleague on the number he already had with him. The colleague denied making any calls.

On realising that he had been taken for a ride, Radhakrishnan alerted his bank and the cyber police.

Also read: Tharoor asks Union govt to ensure protection of citizens’ data

Police assure money recovery

Koroth said Radhakrishnan transferred the money through Jio Payments and it was credited to the account of a man identified as Kaushik Shah in the Maharashtra-based RBL (formerly Ratnakar) Bank. The account was in a branch in Gujarat.

Though Shah’s account has been frozen on the Kerala police’s request, the amount had already been transferred to the Panaji-based trading company.

The police assured Radhakrishnan that the amount would be credited back to his account after the completion of formalities.

“The number used for making the WhatsApp call had not received any other calls. But it received the usual service SMSes. We believe the number was used only for WhatsApp communication,” Koroth said.

Also read: Telangana tops cybercrime cases in the country

WhatsApp response awaited

“To confirm whether deepfake technology was employed, we have made an official request to WhatsApp. So far, we have not received any response. We could ascertain if a deepfake technology was used only after receiving its response,” the officer said.

A cyber police team would visit Gujarat after receiving WhatsApp’s response.

A case has been registered in this regard under Section 420 of the IPC and Sections 66D and 66C of the Information Technology Act.

“I haven’t heard of any similar cases. If AI has been used to swindle money, this will be the first such case in the country,” Koroth said.

What is deepfake?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “deepfake” as “any of various media, especially a video, that has been digitally manipulated to replace one person’s likeness convincingly with that of another, often used maliciously to show someone doing something that he or she did not do”.

The word itself is a portmanteau of “deep learning” — which Oracle defines as “algorithms modelled to work like the human brain learning from large amounts of data” — and “fake”.

India has seen several examples of deepfakes in this decade. For example, the BJP in February 2020 released a couple of deepfakes of actor-turned-politician and current MP Manoj Tiwari to reach out to voters from different linguistic backgrounds.

Meanwhile, in April this year, DMK leader Palanivel Thiaga Rajan took to Twitter to allege that a “blackmail gang” was making a “desperate attempt” to disparage him and the ruling party in Tamil Nadu by releasing fabricated audio clips — more specifically, deepfakes.

Creating a deepfake has become relatively easier and cheaper — and at times even free — over the past few years.

For example, the website deepfakewebs.com charges $4 (around ₹328) an hour to create deepfakes in a few simple steps.

A basic deepfake costs about $20 (around ₹1,640), while a high-quality deepfake costs $80 (around ₹6,560).