Montage of phone in front of someone's face and ring light in background

This is a PSA to be careful out there: deepfakes have come to regular, real-time video calls. People are getting scammed.

The Yahoo Boys have been experimenting with deepfake video clips for around two years and shifted to more real-time deepfake video calls over the last year, says David Maimon, a professor at Georgia State University and the head of fraud insights at identity verification firm SentiLink. Maimon has monitored the Yahoo Boys on Telegram for more than four years and shared dozens of videos with WIRED revealing how the scammers are using deepfakes.


The Yahoo Boys’ live deepfake calls run in two different ways. In the first, shown above, the scammers use a setup of two phones and a face-swapping app. The scammer holds the phone they are calling their victim with—they’re mostly seen using Zoom, Maimon says, but it can work on any platform—and uses its rear camera to record the screen of a second phone. This second phone has its camera pointing at the scammer’s face and is running a face-swapping app. They often place the two phones on stands to ensure they don’t move and use ring lights to improve conditions for a real-time face-swap, the videos show.

The second common tactic… uses a laptop instead of a phone. (WIRED has blurred real faces in both videos.) Here, the scammer uses a webcam to capture their face and software running on the laptop changes their appearance. Videos of the setup show scammers are able to see their own face alongside the altered deepfake, with just the manipulated image being displayed over the live video call.


Some of the Yahoo Boy videos are unbelievable, obvious fakes, while others appear plausible. When they’re viewed live, on a mobile phone, with unstable connections, any obvious flaws may be masked—especially if a scammer has spent months social-engineering their victim.


Ronnie Tokazowski, the chief fraud fighter at Intelligence for Good, which works with cybercrime victims, says because the Yahoo Boys have used deepfakes for romance scams, they’ll pivot to using the technology for their other scams. “This is kind of an early warning where it’s like: ‘OK, they’re really good at doing these things. Now, what’s the next thing they’re going to do?’”

Source: WIRED