Illustration by Laura Normand / The Verge

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a new way to combat the impersonation scams that it says cost people $1.1 billion last year alone. Effective today, the agency’s rule (PDF) “prohibits the impersonation of government, businesses, and their officials or agents in interstate commerce.” The rule also lets the FTC directly file federal court complaints to force scammers to return money stolen by business or government impersonation.

Impersonation scams are wide-ranging — creators are on the lookout for fake podcast invites that turn into letting scammers take over their Facebook pages via a hidden “datasets” URL, while Verge reporters have been impersonated by criminals trying to steal cryptocurrency via fake Calendly meeting links.

Linus Media Group was victimized by a thief who pretended to be a potential sponsor and managed to take over three of the company’s YouTube channels. Some scams can also be very intricate, as in The Cut financial columnist Charlotte Cowles’ story of how she lost a shoebox holding $50,000 to an elaborate scam involving a fake Amazon business account, the FTC, and the CIA. (See also: gift card scams.)

The agency is also taking public comment until April 30th on changes to the rule that would allow it to also target impersonation of individuals, such as through the use of video deepfakes or AI voice cloning. That would let it take action against, say, scams involving impersonations of Elon Musk on X or celebrities in YouTube ads. Others have used AI for more sinister fraud, such as voice clones of loved ones claiming to be kidnapped.

In announcing the final rule last month, the FTC illustrated the behavior it’s targeting:

Using government seals or business logos when communicating with consumers by mail or online.

Spoofing government and business emails and web addresses, including spoofing “.gov” email addresses or using lookalike email addresses or websites that rely on misspellings of a company’s name.

Falsely implying government or business affiliation by using terms that are known to be affiliated with a government agency or business (e.g., stating “I’m calling from the Clerk’s Office” to falsely imply affiliation with a court of law).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *