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A New Frontier for Travel Scammers: A.I.-Generated Guidebooks

The New York Times (read free): “In March, as she planned for an upcoming trip to France, Amy Kolsky, an experienced international traveler who lives in Bucks County, Pa., visited and typed in a few search terms: travel, guidebook, France. Titles from a handful of trusted brands appeared near the top of the page: Rick Steves, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet. Also among the top search results was the highly rated “France Travel Guide,” by Mike Steves, who, according to an Amazon author page, is a renowned travel writer. “I was immediately drawn by all the amazing reviews,” said Ms. Kolsky, 53, referring to what she saw at that time: universal raves and more than 100 five-star ratings. The guide promised itineraries and recommendations from locals. Its price tag — $16.99, compared with $25.49 for Rick Steves’s book on France — also caught Ms. Kolsky’s attention. She quickly ordered a paperback copy, printed by Amazon’s on-demand service. When it arrived, Ms. Kolsky was disappointed by its vague descriptions, repetitive text and lack of itineraries. “It seemed like the guy just went on the internet, copied a whole bunch of information from Wikipedia and just pasted it in,” she said. She returned it and left a scathing one-star review. Though she didn’t know it at the time, Ms. Kolsky had fallen victim to a new form of travel scam: shoddy guidebooks that appear to be compiled with the help of generative artificial intelligence, self-published and bolstered by sham reviews, that have proliferated in recent months on Amazon.fake portraits; websites with a seemingly endless array of stock photos and graphics; self-publishing platforms — like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing — with few guardrails against the use of A.I.; and the ability to solicit, purchase and post phony online reviews, which runs counter to Amazon’s policies and may soon face increased regulation from the Federal Trade Commission…”

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