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Georgetown student, 19, who died in tragic accident falls victim to ghoulish ‘obituary pirates’ who post memorials filled with LIES to rake in Google ad revenue – with LA writer who’s still ALIVE also targeted


A Georgetown student, 19, who died in a tragic accident has been exploited by a growing band of ‘obituary pirates’ who spread false information online for clicks.

Matthew Sachman fell onto the subway tracks in New York City on New Year’s Eve and was killed by an oncoming train.

Within hours AI had written news articles about the incident and inaccurate obituaries for Sachman quickly spread online.

Some details in the fake memorials, such as Sachman’s age and home state, were inaccurate. But others went as far as to claim he had been murdered, with one stating that he had been stabbed at a subway station in the Bronx. 

Matthew Sachman, 19, died in a tragic accident that was exploited by ' obituary pirates' who falsely claimed he had been murdered

Matthew Sachman, 19, died in a tragic accident that was exploited by ‘ obituary pirates’ who falsely claimed he had been murdered

The Georgetown student fell into the subway tracks in New York City on New Year's Eve and was killed by an oncoming train

The Georgetown student fell into the subway tracks in New York City on New Year’s Eve and was killed by an oncoming train

Sachman and a friend had been messing around on the platform of the East Broadway stop in Manhattan, when he fell onto the tracks and was killed instantly by a train entering the station. 

But his family said a host of stories published online were ‘completely wrong’. 

‘There were sites I’d never heard of, information that was completely wrong, it didn’t make sense,’ a family friend told the New York Times

‘I was looking for the truth,’ Devan Mehrish, 19, a childhood friend explained. ‘But I didn’t find it there.’ 

‘We were trying to find out what happened, but we saw some weird things,’ David Lombardi, the owner of a nursery and furniture store in Nantucket where Sachman had worked a summer job.

‘I just stopped and thought, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’

‘Obituary pirating’ is where scammers use AI to compose obituaries for trending names and collect ad revenue from the clicks. 

Experts told the Times that content farming such articles would only generate around $100 a month from ad revenue and fake obituaries like Sachman’s only a penny or two. But if they do enough, this can quickly add up. 

LA Times journalist Deborah Vankin found fake obituaries published about her online while still alive

LA Times journalist Deborah Vankin found fake obituaries published about her online while still alive

'The obits, authored by fictional journalists, were part of an elaborate death hoax created by anonymous scammers using my name as clickbait' Vankin wrote

‘The obits, authored by fictional journalists, were part of an elaborate death hoax created by anonymous scammers using my name as clickbait’ Vankin wrote

A plethora of YouTube videos also popped up with narrators speaking English, Urdu and other languages, pushing misinformation about Sachman’s death. 

Some said he was a famous singer or actor, and others continued the lie that he had been murdered. 

‘What these content farms do is monitor SEO and Google inputs all day and if they see a breakout, they seize on that and publish hoaxes as clickbait content,’  NewsGuard’s AI and Foreign Influence editor said. 

‘It all comes down to financial revenue. Capitalize on search results, what people are interested in, and publish fake news around that to direct people to their site and, in turn, get money for advertising.’

An LA Times journalist fell victim to a similar scam, with fake obituaries published about her online while she was still alive.

‘The obits, authored by fictional journalists, were part of an elaborate death hoax created by anonymous scammers using my name as clickbait’ Deborah Vankin wrote in the LA Times

One of the obituaries read: ‘A distinguished arts and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times and an esteemed professor at Emerson College, Deborah Vankin has made an indelible impression on the world of media and education’. 

Another wrote: ‘Deborah Vankin’s family is feeling very sad because she passed away. She was a significant person to them, and they greatly miss her’.

As with Sachman YouTube videos detailing Vankin’s false death also appeared online, much to the horror of her parents and brother. 

'Deborah Vankin¿s family is feeling very sad because she passed away. She was a significant person to them, and they greatly miss her' one fake obituary said

‘Deborah Vankin’s family is feeling very sad because she passed away. She was a significant person to them, and they greatly miss her’ one fake obituary said

‘It’s a phishing scheme, an attempt to get clicks or viewers,’ said Elijah Dittersdorf, owner of the L.A.-based Mom’s Computer, a business that works with seniors on scam prevention and damage control.

Dittersdorf explained he started to see false obituaries such as these around 2021 targeting ‘people with a name, but not necessarily the Kardashians.’ 

‘It’s happened to a small number of our clients — one was a popular ’70s and ’80s actress, another was a well-known divorce lawyer, another a prominent [figure] in Hollywood media,’ he said. 

‘Often there’s an action involved to get your information and eventually scam you. But the biggest thing is clicks and views. 

‘They want to grow their channel. Clicks lead to money.’



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