European mayors fooled into calls with fake Kyiv mayor

European mayors were tricked into holding video meetings with a fake Kyiv mayor, Vitali Klitschko. Some mayors, like those of Berlin, Madrid, and Budapest, became suspicious during the calls and ended them. Vienna’s mayor, Michael Ludwig, initially believed he spoke with Klitschko but later realized he was a victim of cybercrime. Investigations indicated that the fake Klitschko may not have been a deepfake due to discrepancies between the video frames during the calls and the original YouTube interview serving as the source.

The mayors of several European cities held meetings via video link with a person they thought was the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, only to find out they were deceived by a deepfake of Klitschko.

The office of Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey tweeted Friday night that his conversation with the alleged mayor of Kyiv was ended after his comments raised suspicion.

Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, likewise cancelled a video call when he suspected he was not speaking with his Kyiv colleague. Meanwhile, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony said in a Facebook post that he had also recently been targeted and had ended the call following ‘several strange, suspiciously provocative questions’. Meanwhile, Michael Ludwig, the mayor of Vienna, was convinced he had talked with Klitschko and even tweeted that they had a video chat. The tweet was deleted after the official account of the Austrian capital published a statement that Ludwig appeared to be the victim of a ‘serious case of cybercrime’.

Questions arose whether the fake Klitschko was a deepfake. German investigative journalist Daniel Laufer found an earlier interview with Klitschko on YouTube that served as the digital source material for the scam. Had a deepfake been used, Laufer argues, the video frames would have been altered in ways that no longer matched the YouTube recording. Apparently this might have been an edited version, not a more-sophisticated deepfake.