Last month, country superstar Luke Combs found himself at the center of an ad campaign that he didn’t sign on for. Videos featuring the musician’s voice endorsing a product called Miracle Root Gummies began circulating on Instagram and Twitter, leading many in Combs’ adoring fan base to place an order sight unseen for a product that does not exist.
“I was at an all-time low, and then God blessed me with the Miracle Root Gummies. My good friend Lainey Wilson had recommended them to me,” intones a voice that sounds like Combs.
The videos are the result of AI scammers who have managed to parrot the voices of celebrities with the express purpose of tricking fans into investing money in bunk products. Occasionally, as in the case of Combs, the AI-generated voice is startlingly realistic.
“There’s commercial products where you can go out and sign up for $10 a month, take a clip of somebody’s voice, and generate a voice that sounds kind of like them. Then type whatever you want into a text box and generate audio output,” Zach Wener, who founded the AI-voice startup Uberduck, told Rolling Stone.
The task of mirroring voices is especially simple when there is a vast resource of pre-exisiting audio to work from. For the fake Combs videos, it’s likely that words and phrases were pilfered from an interview Combs gave on Joe Rogan’s podcast in March.
Combs is far from the only country music phenom to become a target of the AI scam artists. Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Trisha Yearwood, and Tim McGraw have also been made the unwitting representatives of non-existent weight loss techniques.
Lainey Wilson, who has been open about her own weight loss (albeit due to relentless tour schedules, not gummies), was particularly disturbed at her inclusion in the scam. Wilson was scared that her fanbase might see the fraudulent videos as a bizarre course-reversal, so she took to Instagram to set the record straight.
“Nobody’s ever sent me any gummies,” Wilson declares in her statement. “If I’ve lost weight it’s because I am working hard and playing hour-and-a-half shows and running around every night of my life.”
View this post on Instagram
The ads even led to an investigation on Snopes, which unsurprisingly determined that they were fakes.
“Oprah Winfrey, Tom Selleck, Kelly Clarkson, and Mayim Bialik are just four of the dozens of celebrities who have been featured in these gummies scams. Just like Combs and Wilson, none of them ever endorsed gummies,” reads a portion of the Snopes report.
Though it can be tricky, it’s not unprecedented for stars to take legal action in these scenarios. In 2019, Ellen Degeneres and Sandra Bullock filed a joint lawsuit against about 100 anonymous individuals who had misappropriated their likenesses to draw traffic to e-commerce sites.
Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood has won two lawsuits against different companies which used his likeness to sell CBD products. In 2021, Eastwood won $6 million in a judgement against a company based in Lithuania. Last year, Eastwood was the victor in a separate lawsuit against “Los Angeles-based Norok Innovation Inc. and its CEO Eric Popowicz.”
“In pursuing this case, and obtaining this judgment, Mr. Eastwood has again demonstrated a willingness to confront wrongdoing and hold accountable those who try to illegally profit off his name, likeness, and goodwill,” Eastwood’s lawyer, Jordan Susman, in a statement to The New York Times after the 2021 judgement.
“Scams have been going on in the country music fan base for a long time, and it’s because the fan base is so passionately loyal about the artists that they can prey on that,” Combs’ manager Chris Kappy told Rolling Stone. “We need to keep our heads on a swivel right now because it’s only going to get worse. It’s our job to keep educating the fan base about how it’s happening and what we’re doing.”
Outside of notifying fans to be on the lookout for potential scams, though, there is sometimes little the artists and their teams can do. Bringing charges against the creators of the videos and ads can be elusive, while going after the software company which created the technology is an equally circuitous route.
In his Instagram post denouncing Combs’ involvement with any weight-loss gummies, Kappy sounded the alarm on the existential threat posed by maliciously harnessed AI. “To other managers out there, AI is a scary thing and they’re using it against us.”
View this post on Instagram