The rise in generative AI technology has made scamming people online much easier, with fake versions of Tom Hanks, Mr. Beast, and other celebrities often appearing in online ads. YouTube still has a problem with fraudulent advertisements, as I've learned from my own YouTube feed over the past few months.
For the past few months, I’ve seen various advertisements for various fake financial relief programs on YouTube, almost entirely in the YouTube Shorts feed. They depict Joe Rogan (a popular model for these fakes), TV personality Dr. Phill, and right-wing influencer Ben Shapiro. Nearly all of them are using footage taken from The Joe Rogan Show, combined with AI-generated lines and stock footage.
Some of the ads are designed to appear as edited clips from The Joe Rogan Show, with at least one even including a fake Joe Rogan asking "Jamie" to add "place that link beneath this video," mirroring the way Rogan talks to his producer Jamie Vernon on his podcast. I've recorded five distinct ads so far, which are available in a YouTube playlist.
One ad depicts Dr. Phill saying, "[They're] trying to downplay it as a mistake but I'm not falling for it. The government just got caught red handed hiding a $6,400 subsidiary from each and every American." Fake Joe Rogan explains in another ad, "This is precisely why Biden is in a mess. He can't seem to communicate about this $6,400 subsidiary effectively. Expressing that every American is already qualified appears to be a struggle, he constantly messes it up. All you have to do is click the link down below and claim your $6,400."
The ads might all be made by the same person or group, since the video editing style is similar, but there's no way to be sure. Opening the information page for one of the ads revealed it was purchased by "Mantilla Nuñez Herman Andres" from Colombia, while another listed "Digital Uprising LLC" in the United States as the advertiser. There is an advertising company with that name registered in Texas, which claims to be "a dynamic advertising agency made up of innovative thought leaders."
I identified three different websites linked in the ads. Two of the sites, reliefforamericans (dot) com and reliefdirectaid (dot) com, appear to be built and hosted with Leadpages based on the source code. Another site, equilibriumplans (dot) com, has a different design. The first two domains have WHOIS privacy enabled, so the registrar information isn't publicly listed, but the last one is registered by Domains by Proxy.
Most of the ads I've seen appear to be targeted at conservative Americans, as they're all latching onto a mistrust in U.S. President Biden and the federal government to convince them that there's a secret subsidy payment they don't know about. The AI-generated Joe Rogan even says, "It's a shaky position to support him because of his corruption," referring to President Biden. Rogan has repeatedly expressed right-wing views on his podcast, especially COVID-19 misinformation, which makes an ad where he's supposedly frustrated at Biden more believable.
I've been reporting these ads to YouTube each time I see them, but after a few months, they're still popping up intermittently. It's not great that YouTube is still having problems with advertisement moderation, especially as the company is now actively blocking adblock users and only offering YouTube Premium in an increasingly-expensive bundle with YouTube Music.
I reached out to Leadpages to report the malicious sites, and I was asked to send the report again to the company's legal department. This article will be updated when (or if) the company's legal department responds.