Well known for the stunning backdrop of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand is a cultural marvel full of rolling hills and the world’s most intimidating pre-game ritual. But recently, a new and fascinating piece of fraud fighting technology has come out of New Zealand: Netsafe, or more specifically the Netsafe artificial technology Re:scam.
In today’s fast paced world of ever expanding technology, phishing scams—primarily fake emails aimed to steal sensitive information or implant malicious malware into your computer system—have become more prevalent than ever. At CFN we deal with phishing scams on a daily basis and and look for ways to provide solutions to our audience outside of offering standard advice usually imparted when someone is a victim of this type of scam. But now with Re:scam, Netsafe has created a solution for victims to fight back against potential fraudsters and scams.
Specifically, Re:scam toys with fraudsters and asks long winded and open ended questions in response to their request for your information. The responses are automated and curated to different situations presented by the scammers and the answers are often hilarious. One of the most interesting things about Re:scam is the personality driven aspect of the A.I technology. The Netsafe bot has multiple personalities which can be seen on their site where the bot is collage of different ethnicities , genders, voices and physical characteristics. As you’ll see in the brief interview, the Re:scam technology relies on curated backstories which help the technology respond creatively based on unique phishing emails. A brief snippet from the Netsafe website, breaks down how exactly you can get Re:scam to work for you:
“If you think you’ve received a scam email, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take it from there. We’ll even send you a transcript of the conversations Re:scam has had with the scammer – sometimes they can be quite funny! Please note, this can take a while as the bot is designed to reply to the scammer at varying times to appear natural – it may take anywhere from a few seconds to a few days to reply to the scammer each time.”
We had the chance to ask members of the Netsafe team questions through email and provide some insight to how the A.I works.
Where did the idea for this A.I technology come from?
The idea of Re:scam came about as a way to raise awareness about online scams by including people in the fight against them.
The Re:scam is a very personal experience due to the nature of dealing with individual phishing scams. But it’s also taken on a global scale, how do you balance a mass market appeal and the personal aspect of helping individuals fight back?
Our education and awareness work is focussed in New Zealand, but because online scamming is a global issue without borders, we’re not surprised that the idea has been received so well around the world. We’ve created the Re:scam experience in a way that includes people and allows them to see how they’ve contributed. Part of how we do this is by sending them a transcript of the conversation that Re:scam has had with the scammer. In this transcript, we include their original email for context, but we never include this information in our emails to the scammer.
How are these responses curated? And how was the tone decided on? Because some of the responses are quite funny in the context of knowing what’s happening.
The responses in Re:scam were created with multiple personalities in mind. For each of these we created a backstory which helped us to develop interesting and funny, but believable responses for the bot. The responses needed to include just the right amount of entertainment value, while remaining believable and we think we’ve achieved that balance well.
Are you worried about the exposure of this new technology in the media? Specifically that fraudsters might pick up on the responses and figure out they’re being messed with.
Re:scam has been built with this and mind and we’ve taken various steps to make the responses difficult to detect.
What’s next for Netsafe?
Education about scams is an important piece of work, and we’ll continue to look for ways to increase awareness in New Zealand about scams.
Netsafe should be applauded for this unique and creative approach to fighting back against scammers. Re:scam flips phishing scams back on those trying to take advantage of the average citizen. And while Netsafe is primarily focused on servicing the New Zealand community, hopefully we’ll see this type of automation take on a global perspective at some point in the near future.
Marina Burghard writes for Canadian Fraud News about fraud-related cases, whistleblower, jurisdiction, identity theft, consumer protection, etc. – essentially about scams and how to protect yourself against this kind of fraudulent criminal behavior. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Science where her interest in criminology grew. Besides fraud, Marina’s scientific interest lies in terrorism, extremism and how to deal with it as a society.