Who Is Stealing Your Voice?

If you use a mobile phone, a computer, Google’s search engine, digital voice assistants like Siri or Alexa, online banking, online shopping, Netflix or Amazon films and programs, social media, and so many other integral parts of your lives, you are using some form of “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

By Catherine Blinder

When you Google a product or a vacation destination on your computer or phone, do you notice that you get ads for that product and offers for that destination spot? That’s AI. Alexa or Siri will remind you of ordinary things you do because you have asked for reminders, or when you order something online and your name and address field is filled in for you, or when you buy a piece of clothing and then begin to get ads for things similar to that piece of clothing, or when the words “if you like that, you’ll like this” pop up, AI is responsible.

Although these predictive algorithms can be very helpful, they can also open opportunities to fraud and scammers.

Smart scammers seem to always be one step ahead of law enforcement and government regulators. But if you are careful, pay attention, and take your time, you can be one step ahead of the scammers!

Scammers are now using artificial intelligence to clone people’s voices and call their loved ones, faking an emergency in an attempt to steal money.

There is currently a rise in cloned voice scams, which particularly target the elderly to swindle them. Scammers are using voice-cloning programs to recreate a familiar voice – then use that voice to call a parent or grandparent, for example, to fake an emergency and request money be sent. Remember though, once you do that, that money is gone. So again, think, slow down, and ask yourself if this sounds real.

Scammers can use a short audio file, which can be taken from a video or other content posted online, (be careful what you put on social media!) to clone a voice using AI. They can rearrange words to make the voice say anything. 

So, how do you know if an emergency call from a loved one is real or a scam using a cloned voice? First and foremost: do not trust the voice. Ask yourself if this is what your loved one would say or if the situation is really out of the ordinary for them. Hang up as soon as you figure out it is not real!

Call the person who supposedly contacted you to verify the story. Use a phone number you know is theirs, and if you can’t reach your loved one, try to get in touch with them through another family member or their friends.

Scammers will often ask that money be sent in ways that make it hard to get back, including telling someone to wire money, send cryptocurrency, or buy gift cards and provide the card and pin numbers. These are sure signs of a scam.

All a scammer needs is a short audio clip of your family member's voice — which they get from content posted online — and a voice-cloning program to create a realistic version of your family member’s voice. When the scammer calls you, he'll sound just like your loved one.

These voice cloning scams have recently targeted senior citizens. In one case, the faked voice of a grandchild asked their grandmother for bail money.

In another scam, a caller claimed to be a lawyer representing an elderly couple's son, who then allowed the son to "speak" to the parents, asking them to send Bitcoin to cover legal fees.

Both of those proved to be nothing more than voice cloning.

Before now, it required a sophisticated operation, but any small-time crook with knowledge of the technology can use it now. Using it requires little technical expertise, making it easier than ever to clone someone's voice as long as a scammer has samples of it.

Help protect yourself and your family members by being careful what you post on social media, being aware that this kind of scam is possible, and thinking carefully and unemotionally if you get a call like that. Slow down to think before acting. And hang up as soon as you figure it out!

Be especially careful if their voice asks you to send money through hard-to-trace means, like cryptocurrency, gift cards, and wire transfers.

You can be the hero in these situations by following the tips above and always watching for the signs of a scam. And pass it on! Tell your neighbors and friends to watch out for these kinds of scams, and if you or someone you know has been a victim – you can report it to DCP at dcp.complaints@ct.gov, and report it to your local police department.

This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education, and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp