Mom: Kidnap Scam Used AI Clone of Daughter's Voice

Jennifer DeStefano is spreading the word after terrifying phone call
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2023 10:20 AM CDT
New Twist in Kidnappings: Hoaxes With Fake AI Voices
   (Getty Images / Tero Vesalainen)

Jennifer DeStefano got a call from an unknown number while her 15-year-old daughter Brianna was at an athletic event. Fearing an emergency, she answered, reports CNN. DeStefano heard a girl's voice identical to Brianna's. She screamed that she'd "messed up," then the terrified mom heard a man instructing her daughter to "lay down." The male voice demanded $1 million ransom, as other worried mothers surrounded DeStefano and started making calls of their own, including to 911. Within five minutes, they confirmed that Brianna was safe and the call was a hoax. As it turns out, DeStefano was the intended victim of a virtual kidnapping scam incorporating an AI-made clone of her daughter's voice, per Arizona's KTVK.

CNN reports that the frightening con has been happening nationwide as criminals use altered audio of loved ones' voices. FBI spokesperson Siobhan Johnson says US families who are so victimized lose up to $11,000 in each fake kidnapping. They're usually instructed to wire the money somewhere or to pay in gift cards, per KTVK. The Federal Trade Commission says imposter scams in general caused Americans to lose $2.6 billion last year. Time magazine, in reporting on AI use in everything from music to crime—including DeStefano's experience, which occurred in January—details how scammers use audio found online. It is remarkably easy to take a clip, copy the voice, and do whatever with it. According to Time, new advances in Generative AI have only improved the quality of the clones.

UC Berkeley AI lab member Hany Farid doubles down for CNN, saying this relatively new "threat is not hypothetical—we are seeing scammers weaponize these tools." He says a decent "clone can be created with under a minute of audio and some are claiming that even a few seconds may be enough." As Arizona State University computer science professor Subbarao Kambhampati tells KTVK, "You can no longer trust your ears." To help avoid falling prey to such a scam, CNN lists a few recommendations:

  • Avoid posting info such as vacation plans on social platforms.
  • Make up a password that is shared only among family members to determine if the caller is really who they say.
  • Should you get a call you think is fake, find a way to buy time so you can call 911.
  • Avoid ever giving out financial info to anyone you don't know on phone.
(More artificial intelligence stories.)

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