Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • AI image generation enables scammers to create realistic-looking “photos” of non-existent products, posing a threat to online shoppers.
  • Look out for signs of AI-generated products such as gibberish text, physically impossible designs, and a lack of multiple images or videos. Photos alone cannot be trusted as evidence of a product’s authenticity, however.
  • Using reputable shopping platforms with solid buyer protection policies and third-party reviews are essential to ensure safe online shopping.

AI image generation is an incredible (if controversial) technology that has plenty of great use cases, but like any new technology it provides new opportunities for scammers. Particularly, it creates the possibility to make “photos” of products that don’t really exist.

E-Commerce Is Easy These Days

One of the best things about the modern internet is that almost anyone can make, sell, and ship products anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the worst about the internet. We’ve grown used to buying products online without every seeing them in person, but that’s largely thanks to great aftermarket service from large online retailers like Amazon or buyer protection from sites like eBay.

There are many other ways to set up a legit-looking storefront, and you only need to get the money from a few poor souls to make it worth it financially. AI image generation is just the latest tool that can make these types of scams easier and cheaper to do. If you haven’t been following the rapid advancement of AI-image generation, you may be surprised at just how good these pictures can be, so let’s make some of our own and you can judge for yourself.

Making Photorealistic Product Mockups With AI

To demonstrate how easy it is to make fake product pictures, I asked DALL-E 3 for product shots of the sorts of things that might catch the eye of the average person browsing X, Facebook, or Instagram. For example, we asked DALL-E 3 to generate made up products that look like photoreal shots or professional CG renders. You can create very enticing modern furniture.We can also ask for outlandish things like a seashell chair, or everyday tech stuff like drones or smartglasses.

Whether using MidJourney, Stable Diffusion, DALL-E, or any other modern image generator, it’s dead easy for anyone to make up product designs from thin air in seconds.

How to Protect Yourself

So if you can’t trust the images of a product you see online anymore, how can you avoid getting scammed? If we think about it rationally, most of the same precautions for all e-commerce still apply:

  • Only buy from reputable platforms with solid buyer protection policies.
  • Look for legitimate third-party reviews of the product from reputable outlets (like us!)
  • Try to get as much detailed information about the product as possible from multiple sources.

Then there are some AI-specific things you can look out for as well:

  • Text on products is gibberish (though this is changing)
  • The geometry or design would be physically impossible.
  • You can’t find multiple images of the same product (though there are ways to do this now with AI)
  • There is no video of the product (though AI video is now emerging)

As you can tell from the multiple caveats, the truth is that soon, and perhaps even already, you can’t rely on a photo or video as evidence that a product is real. Which means the only real recourse would be to rely on other factors to protect yourself from scammers. You’ll have to do your research to make sure you don’t pay for a product that doesn’t exist and never did.

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By John P.

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