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Reporter Stunned to Discover Her Own Obituary, Revealing Yet Another Scam

Crafting fake obituaries is as simple as inputting details about a person into an AI system
Cover Image Source: Scam | Unsplash | Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya
Cover Image Source: Scam | Unsplash | Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya

In 2023, the FBI received over 880,418 reports of cybercrime, marking a 10% uptick from the previous year. Compounding the challenge, AI technology is making it even more difficult to detect scams. In a new scheme, scammers are employing AI to produce counterfeit obituaries online, all in a deceitful bid to generate ad revenue.


"Deborah Vankin, an esteemed journalist whose eloquent storytelling and insightful narratives illuminated the world around us, has passed away," one of the obituaries read.

As per CNN, a Los Angeles Times reporter, Vankin, read her own obituary and watched news anchors discuss her untimely death in a video accompanying the announcement. In a conversation with the publication, she talks about how she felt when she first read her fake obituary.

"I oddly didn’t panic. I was mostly confused at first, then outraged. I was sad; reading your own obituary is a surreal experience. After speaking with experts, I was scared for myself, for all journalists, and for our society," she said.

Although the reporter isn't certain why she was targeted by the scammers, she speculates that it may be due to the popularity of one of her recent articles. The article in question delved into her experiences with anxiety while driving on the freeway.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Deborah Picker Vankin (@deborahvankin)


"These scammers are correct in realizing the amount of traffic that obituaries drive," said Joshua Klopfenstein, co-founder of Lindenwood Marketing. "For most funeral home websites, obituaries account for 80% to 85% of all visitors. That said, a scammer needs to pirate a ton of obituaries to get enough traffic to generate significant ad revenue."

"With our recent updates to our search spam policies, we’ve significantly reduced the presence of obituary spam in search results," a Google Spokesperson told CNN.

Last month, the tech giant also announced policies aimed at preventing clickbait obituaries and other low-quality, spammy, and shady content from appearing prominently in search results.


"On YouTube, we fight this content by rigorously enforcing our spam, deceptive practices, and scams policies. They are produced at scale with the primary intent of gaming search ranking, and offer little value to users," Google posted on a blog detailing the changes.

According to Robert Wahl, an associate professor of computer science at Concordia University Wisconsin and an expert on AI technology, crafting fake obituaries is as simple as inputting details about a person into an AI system.

"There’s very low startup costs for this. You can use free services that are available on the internet. And you can generate this for little to no cost. And it can pay some revenue, so there’s an incentive to do it," he told CNN.

Fake bank calls scam is on the rise and stealing thousands from the innocent users worldwide|Pexels|Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Image Source: Scam | Pexels | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Wahl further noted that some scammers appear to work from abroad, where the minimal revenue they earn is enough to cover their living expenses. The international dimension of this issue complicates matters, as differing laws across countries pose challenges to prosecuting these scammers.

"It may or may not be illegal in all countries. So the challenging situation is trying to determine whether it’s an illegal activity—even though it’s certainly done in poor taste," he said. "And so this is for the most part something we cannot avoid. We just have to learn to identify the hoaxes."