No, Gladiator star Russell Crowe is not peddling Malta property sales app

Scam videos using audio deepfakes to imitate Gladiator star Russell Crowe, who denounces video now pulled down from social media

Russell Crowe poses for a selfie with fans in Malta
Russell Crowe poses for a selfie with fans in Malta

Russell Crowe acting in Malta? True. Singing with his band in Malta? True. Selling property in Malta via a social media app? Untrue.

The star of Hollywood epic Gladiator has lambasted a deepfake video of him doing the rounds of social media in which the Australian actor is seen peddling the sale of property through a digital mobile app.

The video uses Crowe’s husky voice as well as his moving image from a recent video of his to create a deepfake of the actor promoting the app.

Such ads are among many of similar celebrity-focused scams which render convincing voices and movements through the use of artificial intelligence software, much of it available online. Last year, the actor Tom Hanks and the YouTube personality MrBeast all said that AI versions of themselves had been used, without permission, for deceptive dental plan promotions, iPhone giveaway offers and other ads.

In Russell Crowe’s case, AI was used to bank on the Australian actor’s recent return to Malta for Gladiator II as a way of peddling property sales on the island through a mobile app called Swipelets.

Using a synthetic version of the actor’s voice, added to footage of one of his recent video messages, it appears to show Crowe’s cloned voice promoting the Swipelets mobile app as a way of finding exclusive homes in Malta for rent and purchase, all set against drone footage of the Maltese islands.

“This is going around in Malta. It is obviously fake BS, don’t fall for it,” Crowe said on his (formerly Twitter) profile. “What else is obvious is that this service/business must be shonky and underhanded to resort to this way of promoting itself. Block, report, ignore. I’ve never used this service and I do not endorse this BS.”

Swipelets bills itself on Facebook as a property company based in Portomaso. According to one Twitter user responding to Crowe’s tweet, the company deleted the AI video from Facebook after it was flagged. But the ad was not found on the Meta ad library under any of the company’s Facebook profiles.

On its website, the company also promotes property in Ibiza and dabbles in citizenship services by providing “pathways to European citizenship”. Its LinkedIn profile links up to the name of an Italian citizen.

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Major advances in AI have made it easy and accessible to produce an unauthorised digital replica of a real person. Audio spoofs can be especially easy to produce and difficult to identify. Online tools cam turn text into AI-generated voices, which mimic existing real voices online - such as those of Crowe’s – and then be incorporated into existing video footage through lip-synching programmes.

Technology entrepreneur Gege Gatt had previously told Times of Malta that it only takes some 30 seconds of recorded audio for AI software to be able to accurately reproduce a person’s speech patterns.

In 2023, a network of scammers used personal Facebook accounts to create deepfake videos of them singing the praises of their scammers, using their exact tone of voice, cadence and accent. The scam was centred around a fake Facebook profile named Ddexterr Ssmithh. Many repeat the same story, saying they earned a handsome sum of anything between €10,000 to €1 million, after investing an initial €1,000. They then go on to assure viewers that they have not been hacked and that this is “real and legit”. The videos are in both English and Maltese