The owner of a Derbyshire art gallery allegedly became the victim of a deepfake scam involving an AI-generated Pierce Brosnan which almost led to the closure of her business.
The Long Eaton-based art gallery found itself at the centre of an international news story when it claimed to be hosting Pierce Brosnan's first ever art exhibition, but instead its owner had to apologise to people who had purchased tickets to the event when it was claimed it was all part of an elaborate scam.
SMS Graphics and Art made headlines after its advertisement for the exhibition at the gallery became the subject of a cease and desist letter from the Irish actor's lawyers.
Several fans of Mr Brosnan, who had paid for tickets to the bogus exhibit, accused owner Simone Simms of scamming them and demanded she send them their money back. But she claims she was a victim of a scam herself, after months of communications, including what appears to be AI-generated voice messages and deep-fake video calls, with a person she believed to be Brosnan himself.
"The truth is, I wanted to give you all a good exhibition with Pierce Brosnan. The voice on the messages sounded exactly, distinctly like him. I have no intention of taking fans' money fraudulently. We're still trying to figure out what happened.
"I apologise if I affected anyone or caused any ordeal but I didn't know myself. I've been through an ordeal. I've lost a lot of money. This was some elaborate scam maybe. I fell victim to what I thought was a real page. It looked real and it looked legit. I did my best to check.
"Hopefully at the end I don't hurt anyone's feelings. I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me. I'm a victim and my business is out there in the mud and I need help gaining back everything I worked so long for."
Ms Simms, 48, opened SMS Graphics & Art in April this year. In need of a boost and with a desire to follow her dream of exhibiting a celebrity's artwork in her premises, she found a Facebook page which she believed to belong to Mr Brosnan and contacted it via the email address listed on the page.
Communications between Ms Simms and the alleged impersonator continued for months via email, on Telegram and on Instagram before Ms Simms parted with money for a meeting with Mr Brosnan and for the shipping of the artwork to the UK. She was also asked to pay "customs charges" to the person but refused.
News outlet Nottinghamshire Live heard a voice message sent to Ms Simms purporting to be Mr Brosnan, and an artist who displays art in the gallery, Neil Adcock, confirmed that he had been present at the time of a Zoom video call Ms Simms had with what was believed to be Mr Brosnan himself. Ms Simms says she believed she also had communications with Mr Brosnan's wife, his managers and his lawyers.
In October, the event went live and Ms Simms advertised it online. Tickets were available to purchase on reputed ticket-selling platform Eventbrite.
The story was covered by Nottinghamshire Live and Ms Simms says that 24 tickets were sold within the first couple of days. But three days later, Mr Brosnan released an official statement via his social media channels debunking the story, saying that his lawyers had sent Ms Simms a cease-and-desist letter and that his art was not going to appear at the gallery.
Nottinghamshire Live visited the SMS Art Gallery premises on Friday, November 17, and spoke to Ms Simms in person. And, in a staggering turn of events, Ms Simms claims she remains in communication with the person, who is still trying to convince her that they are indeed Pierce Brosnan.
"I was hurt. I am hurt. In the last two weeks I've had the most humiliating, devastating time of my life. I had invited a lot of respectable people (to the exhibition). I had to face them again. People called me a scammer. Two of the artists who displayed their art in here have left because they said I've got a bad reputation now and have had bad publicity. I have lost a lot of people and a lot of money.
"I'm not crazy. I'm just confused. They're trying to drive me crazy. I don't know what is happening."
Ms Simms says she has lost a total of nearly £3,000 but vows to pay back those who had purchased tickets. The claims that she has been a victim of fraud are being investigated by her bank.
What is ‘deepfake’?
Deepfake communications refer to the use of deep learning techniques, specifically deepfake technology, to manipulate or generate audio, video, or written content in a way that can deceive or mislead people.
Deepfakes typically involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create realistic-looking or sounding content that is not genuine.
Video Deepfakes: This is perhaps the most well-known form of deepfake. Using deep learning algorithms, individuals can manipulate videos to make it appear as though someone is saying or doing something they never did. This can be used for various purposes, including political manipulation, spreading misinformation, or creating fake celebrity content.
Audio Deepfakes: These involve the use of AI to generate realistic-sounding audio clips of individuals saying things they never actually said. Voice cloning technology is often used to mimic a person's voice accurately.
Text Deepfakes: While less common, there are also deepfakes that involve generating written content, such as articles, blog posts, or social media posts. These can be used to create fake news or spread misinformation.
The term "deepfake" is derived from the combination of "deep learning" and "fake." Deep learning is a subset of machine learning that involves neural networks with many layers (deep neural networks). These networks can be trained on large datasets to learn complex patterns and generate content that closely resembles real data.
Deep fake communications raise ethical concerns as they can be used to manipulate public opinion, spread misinformation, create false narratives or – in the case above – conduct fraudulent activity.
Efforts are being made to develop tools and techniques to detect and mitigate the impact of deepfake content, but the rapid advancement of AI technology continues to pose challenges in this area.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to email@example.com. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).