Scammers Reportedly Created Fake Lawyers for SEO Scheme

Remember: reverse image search can be very useful

Mannequin in suit
When is a lawyer not a lawyer?
Getty Images

With the advent of AI, it’s an especially strange time to be on the internet. In bygone years, you could be reasonably sure that a photograph of someone with a list of professional qualifications represented an actual existing person. In 2024, that’s a little more up for grabs. Last year, a scandal involving AI-generated headshots and seemingly nonexistent writers at Sports Illustrated led to massive changes at the publication in question. But it turns out bylines attributed to nonexistent people are just the tip of the iceberg as far as unethical use of AI is concerned.

In a new investigation for 404 Media, Jason Koebler unearthed an especially ornate scam that seems designed to bolster traffic to certain websites. The method involves sending threatening letters to website proprietors accusing them of misusing certain images, and telling them that they can rectify this by linking to a (seemingly unrelated) website. If this sounds dodgy to you, your instincts are sound — and that’s before the AI-generated lawyers come into play.

The article focuses on Ernie Smith, whose newsletter Tedium is described as focusing on the “long dive towards the end of the long tail.” Smith received an ominous letter from a firm called Commonwealth Legal — or at least it would have been ominous had Smith not done some digging. There, he noticed a few things that seemed off: the photo of the supposed law firm’s offices did not match photos of the building at the address, for one thing.

The lawyers listed there, Koebler notes, have no presence anywhere else online. And reverse image searches yieled, in Koebler’s words, “a now-broken website called Generated.Photos” which promised users that it could generate photos of nonexistent people.

The whole thing is both absurd and more than a little unsettling. In the case of Smith, the scammers targeted someone with a copious knowledge of the internet — meaning that he could easily see through the would-be scam. But his experience begs the question of how many other people are receiving messages like this and assuming they’re the genuine article.

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