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Beware another Elon Musk investment scam using deepfake videos of the billionaire and news anchors

IN SHORT: Videos promising a 'new secret investment' project by the world's richest man, Elon Musk, have several visual, audio and contextual clues that the clips are deepfakes. South Africa's public broadcaster and impersonated news anchors have also debunked the claims.

In November 2023, a series of deepfake videos edited to look like TV news segments began circulating on social media. 

The videos announce Elon Musk’s supposed “new secret investment” project using the likeness of TV news anchors.

Musk is the founder of the electric car company Tesla and the owner of social media platform X (formerly Twitter). He is also the world’s richest person

“Important news: Elon Musk’s project has scared the government and big banks. He has come up with a new secret investment that has made hundreds of people very rich,” the deepfake anchors say.

The videos are popular in South Africa, where Musk was born, with one Facebook version getting 113,000 views and another about 11,000 views. A version posted on YouTube has been viewed 134,000 times. 

We looked into the videos and found clues that the clips are fake. Here they are, so you can avoid being scammed. 

MuskVideo_False

Disinformation using Musk and well-known South African news anchors 

Tiktok and Facebook users were quick to point out similar versions that used different footage of Musk and various news anchors. The anchors include Bongiwe Zwane and Francis Herd from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), South Africa’s public TV and radio broadcaster.

Such figures are well-known and authoritative sources, and there is a wealth of footage of them speaking available online, which can be used to develop this type of forgery. 

Deepfakes are digitally manipulated videos that often combine or create human faces and bodies. They are often used to create non-consensual impersonations of women in pornography, and of celebrities, journalists and public figures. 

The technology used to create deepfakes can be highly sophisticated and specialised, producing eerily lifelike videos of people saying or doing things they have not done. 

But videos like this can also be created using inexpensive software that is much more accessible but produces less convincing results. It can still fool those who are unaware of the capabilities of this tech or don’t know how to identify these “cheap fakes”. 

Some examples we’ve fact-checked fall into this category, where it is likely obvious something is wrong with the videos, even to someone not too familiar with deepfakes. But these latest Musk scam videos are more convincing. They use video footage as a source, rather than simply overlaying mouth movements onto a static image, to produce more lifelike renditions.

A closer look at the clips

Although there were several versions of the claim, with slightly different footage of Musk and different news anchors, the premise of the scheme is the same. Like many other popular scams we’ve exposed, this one promises a way to earn a large passive income by investing a comparatively small amount of money. 

After an introduction by a news anchor, Musk is seen describing the “newly developed tool”, either on stage or in a teleconference setting, depending on the video. In one, he announces that “we have developed powerful software” which he’s spent “over $5 billion” developing.

If you look closely at the videos, they all contain clear signs of manipulation. The rhythm of Musk’s and the anchors’ voices sound unnatural in some parts. 

The anchors’ accents may also sound strange to those familiar with South African speech. For example, one of the South African presenters, Herd, later pointed out that her deepfake had an Australian accent.

There are also visual clues. In some parts of the videos, the voices seem to be out of sync with the mouth movements.  The appearance of the mouths is also unnatural in all the videos, to varying degrees. The text at the bottom of the videos also appears out of place, with inconsistent formatting. 

Usual signs of a scam

Even if these signs are not obvious, we can see that the video is fake by looking for external clues. The offer is too good to be true, offering a large, quick return on investment, supposedly “tax free” and “risk free”. In one video, Musk says that investors will “have over one million in [their] trading account in just six months”. 

In the video, the Musk figure also names South African billionaires as beneficiaries of the scheme, including Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer. Listing well-known wealthy people is a common tactic in these scams. But it can also be used to verify or, more likely, debunk them. 

Search for the names of the people listed and some keywords about the scheme, and see if the public figures have talked about or promoted it elsewhere. If not, they are probably not associated with it. 

This relates to a more general tip for when you suspect you’re dealing with misinformation or disinformation: cross-referencing sources. Whether or not you’re sure about such a scheme, try searching for it online to see what reputable news outlets or institutions have said about it. 

In this case, a quick internet search using keywords such as “Musk”, “SABC” and “investment” brings up news articles warning of the scam, as well as an article and news segment from the SABC exposing the scam. The SABC anchors have also set the record straight on their social media accounts here and here

There are not always clear warnings available but you can still use common sense to spot online scams. Posts that ask for money, ask you to engage with the content (by sharing, liking or commenting on it) or link to an unrelated website should raise an eyebrow. Do your research and, if in doubt, don't share, don't engage and, most importantly, don't give your money away.

Bonus: Read our guide to spotting content generated and manipulated by artificial intelligence for more tips on how to stay safe.

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