A widow in Southern California was swindled out of nearly $300,000 by an unidentified scammer who wooed her using a ‘deepfake’ video to impersonate the superintendent of the United States Naval Academy.
On Thursday, U.S. prosecutors filed a formal complaint on behalf of a woman identified only as ‘M.M’ from Santa Monica.
Over the course of about four months, M.M. believed she was being romanced by a U.S. Navy admiral named Sean Buck, but later learned it was all a calculated ruse.
‘While M.M. believed she was communicating with [Buck] via live chat on Skype, what she was seeing were actually manipulated clips of preexisting publicly-available video of the real Admiral Buck, and not the live video chats that M.M. believed them to be,’ court documents obtained by DailyMail.com stated.
The ‘manipulated clips’ M.M. encountered were a ‘deepfake,’ which refers to a video that has been edited to make it appear that individuals, oftentimes public figures, are doing and saying things they’re not.
A woman from Santa Monica, California, paid nearly $300,000 to an unidentified scammer who impersonated Sean Buck, the superintendent of the United States Naval Academy (pictured)
Although initially used for memes and online banter, federal officials have increasingly noted the potential for ‘nefarious purposes.’
‘State adversaries or politically motivated individuals could release falsified videos of elected officials or other public figures making incendiary comments or behaving inappropriately,’ per a report from the Congressional Research Service.
‘Doing so could, in turn, erode public trust, negatively affect public discourse, or even sway an election.’
The story was first reported by The Daily Beast.
The deepfake incident began when M.M. joined the online dating site Match.com about six month after her husband’s death.
Around October 2019, an unidentified individual reached out to M.M. through the dating site and used the name ‘Sean Buck’ – or bizarrely ‘Scott Buck’ – as he romanced her.
‘During the course of their conversations, UI-2 represented to M.M. that he was an Admiral with the United States Navy, and was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Middle East,’ court documents obtained by DailyMail.com read.
A relationship sparked over the next few months as the pair spoke via emails and live chat on Skype, where the alleged Buck would dress in a military uniform.
M.M. and the deepfake con man never met in person as all their communication happened electronically.
Around this time, M.M. was also speaking to an unidentified individual using the name ‘Robert Ankeny’ on Match.com.
The woman, identitied as M.M., met the unidentified scammer on Match.com, where the individual pretended to be a U.S. Navy official
Similarly, M.M and Ankeny developed an online relationship and did not meet in person.
This man claimed to be an American who had traveled to Turkey with plans of building a hospital – but was light on funds when the time came.
He told M.M. that ‘his own funds for the project were stuck in a Turkish bank, and that he was unable to access them.’
Hoping to help a new confidant, M.M. wired $20,000 to a bank account provided by the alleged Ankeny, but his construction woes continued.
Shortly after the payment, Ankeny said he had been arrested by Turkish officials after a construction accident and was stuck in jail.
Fearing for his safety, M.M. shared Ankeny’s alleged detainment with Buck, who told her that he would use his military resources to track down her friend.
Buck later told M.M. that he could help ensure Ankeny’s release, but it would come at a hefty price.
He asked M.M. to liquidate her accounts and wire the money to a New York lawyer who would forward the money to Turkey for Ankeny’s release.
M.M. sent at least seven payments to the alleged Buck that equaled $287,928.
Government officials have increasingly noted how deepfake videos can be weaponized ‘nefarious purposes’
But neither of the unidentified defendants were who they claimed to be.
The alleged ‘Sean Buck’ was not the U.S. Navy official and the real ‘Robert Ankeny’ is a Pennsylvania resident with no knowledge of the scams.
‘As described above, the sending of “good faith money” is a common ruse used by criminals perpetrating confidence or romance frauds to lull a victim and abate suspicion,’ court documents read.
After speaking with her son, M.M. became concerned that she was a victim of wire fraud and tried to recall the wire transfers. She was able to reclaim some of the money, but not all.
Court documents said M.M. had been contacted by the two scam accounts as recently as February with continued demands for money.
Both stated that they would repay M.M. all her money once they returned to the United States from the Middle East.
As of Thursday, none of the funds have been recovered or returned.