Sadly, just a little over a week ago, one of ConnectSafely’s co-founders, Larry Magid, was the victim of a virtual scam call. His quick thinking ultimately led to the discovery that it was, in fact, a scam, and he did not yield to the scammer’s demands. Even so, it was a deeply difficult experience – one that Larry chose to share with the world as a means of education and raising awareness about this issue. In a similar spirit, this week, I’m choosing to discuss a very similar/related type of scam call, AI scam calls. I hope you’ll learn more about what they are and how to protect yourself, should you ever get one.
Hi there, and welcome back to Ask Trish! I hope you’re all well and having a great week.
This week, we’re digging into a scary, complex topic: AI scam calls. You may or may not have heard of AI scam calls, but regardless, you should definitely listen up – because this is a serious issue. As referenced in the opening to this post, just recently, I was reminded how ubiquitous virtual scam calls can be (whether or not there’s AI in the picture); when AI enters the equation, though, these calls can be especially effective and traumatic. That’s why, this week, I discuss AI scam calls, explaining what they are and offering you some tips on how to protect yourself/what to do, should you ever get one. With that said, let’s get into it:
First and foremost, what is an AI scam call? An AI scam call occurs when a scammer uses AI to clone voices or create brief snippets of conversation in an effort to scam a victim into believing something untrue and thus give into the scammer’s demands. Often, these scams involve convincing a victim that the scammer has kidnapped a family member or loved one. To make the call especially believable, scammers might use AI to clone the family member’s voice…and then play the recording, making it seem like your loved one is with them. The scammer will then demand that the victim pay them ransom, claiming that if they don’t, their loved one will be in jeopardy. Of course, fake recordings (e.g., of a woman or man screaming) have been around for a while…but AI is changing the game. Indeed, because AI has gotten so sophisticated in recent years, it can be hard to tell the difference between an AI-generated voice and your family member’s real voice….in fact, late last month, a mom who was the victim of an AI scam call thought that the voice on the other end of the line was her daughter. Not only are virtual kidnapping scams extremely traumatizing, they can also be costly; according to the FBI, families lose on average $11,000 in each virtual kidnapping scam (whether AI-powered or not).
How do scammers create cloned voices? Sadly, nowadays, with AI readily available and extremely cheap, it’s not that challenging. Con artists can turn to very simple, public AI software programs – some as cheap as just $5/month – to clone the voice in an existing recording. Some programs claim they need just a few seconds of a person’s voice to replicate it. (Isn’t that scary?) These cloned voices can mimic the person’s inflection, tone, and speaking style, making it extremely difficult to distinguish between the generated voice and your loved ones’ real voice. When you combine a generated, seemingly authentic voice with the fear and confusion of such a scamming situation, it’s easy to imagine how even the most aware, educated, calm victims can easily fall for the scam. You might be wondering, But where do the scammers get the recordings from? You guessed it – social media! All scammers need is a short audio clip from a video or other content posted online. If it’s publicly available/otherwise easily accessible, they can grab it, clone it, and then, sadly, weaponize it against you.
You’re probably now thinking, Okay, Trish, I’m sufficiently freaked out. What on earth do I do about all of this? How do I protect myself from these scam calls, and if I get one, what do I do? Below, I briefly list some tips and suggestions for preventing and dealing with AI scam calls. Above all, remember – if you get one, it’s not your fault, and in-the-moment, as hard as it is, the most important thing is to stay calm and alert. Afterward, consider seeking mental health support – these situations, while fake, feel 100% real…and can truly be very traumatizing.
- Share carefully online – as referenced, scammers can grab audio of you or your loved ones from the information you share on social media. Moreover, scammers can generally use information about you, e.g., if one of you is on vacation, to make their call more believable. Where possible, try to keep your accounts private and always share personal information thoughtfully and carefully online.
- Always ask to speak with your loved one – AI is good, but it’s still not that good. If you ever receive a call from someone who claims they have your loved one, always ask to speak with that loved one. If the scammer only has a few snippets of conversation or a cloned recording, they won’t be able to honor this request.
- Call 911 – while you’re on the phone, give 911 a call immediately. Have them listen in on the conversation – they can not only offer you law enforcement backup and support, but they may even know if this is a common scam that’s been happening to families in the area.
- Try to separately contact your loved one – of course, immediately try to get in touch with your loved one to determine if they’re okay. If you’re on the phone with the scammer, try to have a friend or other family member do it. If there’s no one else with you, try to contact a friend/family member and have them get in touch with your loved one.
- Don’t provide any financial information over the phone – you may have to “go along” with the scammer for a bit, to keep them on the phone. But even if you say you believe them and will pay them, avoid providing any financial information on the phone, like a bank account number or bank pin. Scammers will take that information and promptly hang up (leaving your money in serious danger).
- Seek mental health treatment – if you’ve been the victim of an AI scam call, know that you can and should seek mental health support. Many victims find the experience harrowing and extremely scary; that’s not a burden you should bear alone. Working with a licensed professional can be a good way to work through the challenges of that experience, and hopefully, move past it.
I hope you found this post a valuable introduction to AI scam calls. I sincerely hope that none of you ever experience an AI scam call, but remember, if you do, by staying calm and alert, you can troubleshoot the situation. Before I wrap up this post, as always, it’s time for my weekly plug to all of you: if you’ve got thoughts, questions, or concerns about the Internet, please share them here. Your question just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Anything you’re wondering about is fair game – so don’t ever worry that your question isn’t “relevant.” I promise, there are almost certainly other people in our community with the same question. So don’t hesitate – fill out the form! I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you in advance for your fantastic questions.
See you next week,