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Beautiful trap: Scammers selling ‘seeds’ for AI-generated plants that don’t exist

Scammers are selling 'seeds' for AI-generated plants that don't exist

The lure is strong for home gardeners, searching online for ideas to spruce up their surroundings — plants with vibrant colors, multi-hued petals and intriguing markings.

Spoiler alert.

“There’s lots of these beautiful pictures being shown on the internet, and unfortunately, they’re AI-generated, and the plants are fake. They don’t exist,” said Jason Cowne, manager at Meadows Farms Nurseries and Landscaping’s Frederick location.

And while the seemingly spectacular plants don’t exist, “many unscrupulous sellers on the internet are selling ‘seeds’ for these plants,” he said in a Tuesday Facebook post.

In a WTOP interview, Cowne explained the scam.

“People creating these images are taking pictures of real plants, such as hostas and calatheas, and they’re altering the colors of the plants, to make them very vibrant,” said Cowne. “They’re adding pictures of flowers from other flowering plants and combining the images to create pictures of beautiful plants that don’t exist.”

With a quick internet search for pink and blue hostas, “they’re all offering seed packs, for say, 100 seeds for $12,” said Cowne. “But if you look closely at the ads, what they’re selling is not seeds for the plant in the picture, they’re just selling you a random pack of seeds.

Other giveaways that plants pictured online don’t really exist?

“Any legitimate plant seller is going to list the genus, the species, and the cultivar of the plant,” said Cowne. “And it’s going to give the scientific name of the plant they’re trying to sell.”

Not seeing those specifics in an internet search of an advertised plant or seed should raise red flags.

Not surprisingly, Cowne said a visit to a local nursery or garden shop eliminates the risk of getting scammed.

“We have the plants in stock,” said Cowne. “You can see the plants for yourself, you can see that they’re healthy, and that they do actually exist.”

Cowne said thousands of spectacular new varieties of plants come onto the market, year after year.

“They’re developed by growers, trialed by universities and other organizations throughout the United States, to make sure they’re healthy, and viable, and that they perform as the breeders want them to.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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