AI Scams are Coming

Beware! AI Makes Scam Calls Sound Disturbingly Realistic

Have you ever received an unexpected call from a family member or friend asking you to wire money or purchase gift cards? If so, you’ll want to read this. New artificial intelligence capabilities allow scammers to clone voices and impersonate loved ones with frightening accuracy.

We recently learned about the threat of what are known as “imitation” or “deep fake” scams. This emerging fraud targets the elderly and relies on AI to replicate a familiar voice. Companies like ElevenLabs even advertise the ability to clone any voice with just a 60-second sample. While mainstream services may utilize safeguards, open source voice cloning technology still enables convincing impersonations.

How Imitation Scams Work

The scam typically starts when a fraudster finds a publicly available video of the intended victim online. This can be a clip uploaded to Facebook, TikTok, Instagram or any site hosting videos. The audio is extracted and fed into voice cloning AI algorithms. In some cases, only one minute of sample audio is required to build a convincing digital replica.

Armed with the cloned voice, scammers will obtain a family member or friend’s phone number. They’ll likely target elderly relatives under the assumption they are more vulnerable and less informed about AI. The fraudsters then call with an urgent request for wire transfers or gift cards to address an emergency or other fabricated story.

My late grandmother was often targeted by fraudulent callers claiming to be from Microsoft and alleging issues with her computer. The scammers posed as tech support, persuading her to provide remote access or pay for unnecessary services and software. Unfortunately, my grandmother fell for these less advanced schemes multiple times over the years, wiring substantial sums or revealing sensitive information. Though the callers used fairly rudimentary tactics compared to modern deep fakes, my grandmother lacked the technological proficiency to recognize the scams. Our family eventually intervened, working with her bank to block suspicious transfers and urging caution on unsolicited contacts regarding her devices. Still, she remained vulnerable until her passing to social engineering frauds trying to abuse her generation’s trusting nature and lack of experience with cybersecurity threats. Looking back, I wish we had done more to protect her savings and identity.

Who’s Most at Risk from Imitation Scams?

While anyone could fall victim, two groups face the greatest risk:

  1. Elderly Individuals: Seniors often have more savings to target. Additionally, many don’t fully understand artificial intelligence and the ability for scammers to impersonate loved ones. Making matters worse, cognitive decline associated with aging makes it harder to identify inconsistencies.

  2. Active Social Media Users: Those who post many photos and videos provide source material to replicate voices. Pay attention to privacy settings but also recognize scammers may still access some content.

What to Do if You Get a Suspicious Call

Here are important steps if you get an urgent or unusual call demanding financial assistance:

First, try to delay the conversation if you have any suspicion. Say you have poor cell signal or that your doorbell or oven timer just went off. Use this pause to independently call or text the family member or friend to confirm if they actually need help. Don’t rely entirely on the details shared on the call.

You can also establish a “family passphrase” ahead of time. Memorize this unique phrase and request whoever is calling provide it before further discussion. This allows all relatives to authenticate identities.

Finally, under no circumstances should you provide personal information or wire money based solely on details from a call. Even if the voice is a perfect replica, confirm emergencies through separate communication channels before sending even a few dollars.

By understanding the mechanics behind imitation scams and following these tips, you can avoid becoming another victim. Share this information with elderly relatives to keep your loved ones and their savings protected.

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