AI-Driven Fake Celebrity Ads are Japan’s Latest Scam Trend

AI-Driven Fake Celebrity Ads are Japan’s Latest Scam Trend

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

AI celeb scam
Picture: bee / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
At least AI is good for something: thieves in Japan are using it to impersonate celebs like Naomi Osaka and con people out of millions. Those same celebs are now asking social media sites to do something about it.

Celebrities promote themselves on social media all the time. Scammers are abusing unassuming social media users with fake ads that look as though their celebrity role models put it out themselves.

Enraged celebrities ask Meta for accountability

Picture: Canva

“It’s unfortunate and sad. I’m honestly angry. Enough is enough.”

Those were the first words Yusaku Maezawa, 48, told Japan’s national broadcaster NHK in a recent interview.

Maezawa is a Japanese billionaire entrepreneur, art collector, and founder of Japan’s largest online fashion retail website Zozotown.

He is one of the many celebrities who scammers are using for their own profit. A trend of fake ads that scammers distribute by posing as admired celebrities such as Maezawa has prompted him to act as more and more victims emerge.

Fake ads using Maezawa’s image and name have spread on Facebook and Instagram. Since last August, at least 700 such ads have spread on social media and continue to circulate today.

Advertisements

Maezawa expressed concern over the unauthorized use of his facial images and name to Meta, operator of the two social media platforms on which the fake ads have spread.

The company replied that it is trying to remove fake ads––while asking for Maezawa’s understanding that solving all problems is difficult. Maezawa criticized this response.

“No, no, no. Delete it is what I’m saying. There are people before my eyes who are falling victim to scams using my photo robbing them of millions, tens of millions of yen. Why doesn’t Meta check each and every ad to eliminate fake ads?! I cannot accept this.”

Taking matters into their own hands

Travel scams in Japan
Picture: polkadot / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Maezawa’s legal team sent documents to Meta demanding that the operator delete the fake ads in June last year.

Meta has yet to take down the posts, prompting Maezawa’s lawyers to prepare for filing a lawsuit in the U.S., The Asahi Shimbun reports.

Last year, Maezawa launched a specialized team to combat impersonating ads.

This March, the team opened a consultation office. Its hotline received more than 180 reports of damages incurred by fake ads within just 10 days.

All damages reported to Maezawa’s team amount to about ¥20 billion ($129,688,000).

The Metropolitan Police Department recorded about ¥27.79 billion ($180,087,537) in 2023 in damages among the 2,271 known scam victims.

One individual claims to have lost over ¥100 million ($648,385) and has filed a police report.

Maezawa’s consultation office has received claims from scam victims whose ordeals were the result of fake ads impersonating other celebrities.

The list of impersonations includes: Naomi Osaka, 26, Japanese professional tennis player; Hiroshi Mikitani, 59, founder and CEO of Rakuten; Hiroyuki Nishimura, 47, Japanese entrepreneur, founder of most accessed Japanese message board 2channel; Takafumi Horie, 51, Japanese entrepreneur who founded Livedoor; Yoshiaki Murakami, 64, Japanese investor, former bureaucrat, and co-founder of “Murakami Fund”; Takuro Morinaga, 66, Japanese economist; Atsuhiko Nakata, 41, Japanese comedian; Hiroto Kiritani, 74, Professional shogi player; Akira Ikegami, 73, Japanese journalist and writer; and Hiroyuki Kishi, 61, Japanese professor, entrepreneur, and former bureaucrat.

The evolution of scamming in Japan

The new attack vector represents an evolution of scamming in Japan. For years, the country has battled the so-called “ore-ore” scam (オレオレ詐欺; ore-ore sagi), in which scammers impersonate someone’s son and scam elderly retirees out of millions of yen.

In recent years, thieves have shifted to recruiting workers – usually young people desperate for money – from online social media sites. In many cases, criminal organizations keep people working under them via threats and intimidation.

How scams go

Picture: しんたこ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

NHK interviewed a man in his seventies who alleges scammers took ¥8 million ($51,856) from him after he clicked a fake ad on Instagram.

The ad read “executing Takuro Morinaga’s advice on investment.” Clicking the ad led to a friend request on the Japanese messaging app LINE. The LINE account user was impersonating Morinaga, even opening up about family matters to gain the victim’s trust. The impersonator said he was “bad at SNS” and introduced the male to his personal assistant, who in turn messaged the victim every day.

“It felt like man-to-man support. I was suspicious at first. But after 3 months of correspondence, I started to feel like it was okay,” he told NHK.

Scammers conned the man into investing ¥2 million ($12,962) into a New Energy Vehicle business. They told him to make the investment made via an app recommended by the “assistant.”

The man was able to check his stock on the app daily and was delighted to see its value increasing until 3 months later when he asked to sell it for profit. He was denied from selling his stock because “it would be taxed,” or that “it would cost processing fees.” He was even told that he “has to pay more because his investment was too little.” That is when he realized that he may have been scammed.

Sadly, that gut feeling kicked in far too late. At this point, he had already “invested” ¥8 million.

Sources

なぜなくならない?SNS有名人なりすまし広告クリックすると…. NHK

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy