Don’t Fall Victim to Scammers Using A.I. to Sound Like Someone You Know

It’s easy to fall victim to phishing attacks, especially ones we’ve never encountered before. As such, AFM continues to take steps to drive a culture of security awareness to keep our clients safe and help to spread awareness. We want to make you aware of a new type of phishing attack that comes in the form of a fake voice.

Voice phishing attacks, or “vishing,” occur when a scammer calls a victim and poses as a reputable company or government agent to try to gain sensitive information or, in some cases, money.

Unfortunately, scammers are always trying to stay one step ahead of our diligence and are using artificial intelligence (AI) as a way to trick us into letting our guards down.

Recent instances of this include a phone call a mother received from someone sounding like her daughter, panicking that she’d been kidnapped and begging to be saved. The woman, Jennifer DeStefano said, “I hear her saying, ‘Mom, these bad men have me. Help me. Help me. Help me.’ And even just saying it just gives me chills.” In reality, her daughter was safe and sound. Scammers had allegedly used artificial intelligence to mimic her voice to try and extort money out of her terrified family.

A similar call came into Dr. Rudolph Cumberbatch from an unknown number and the voice on the other end sounded just like his grandson, Eddie. This time, “Eddie” had been in a serious car accident out of state and needed a large sum of money to cover his totaled car. Luckily, Eddie’s dad was nearby and grew suspicious of the call. They called Eddie who was safe and sound at home the whole time. “I sort of fell for it because basically, it sounded very much like him,” Dr. Cumberbatch told Yahoo Finance. “I was so shaken up that I didn’t even question it, because I get a lot of screwed-up calls and I always question these people. But this one I did not question at all.”

These experiences are not unique and are raising concerns among experts who worry that voice scams could pose an increasing threat to Americans as AI continues to evolve and make it harder to detect what’s real and what’s not. Still, there are several ways we can protect ourselves from being swindled.

Remain Alert

Because our trusting nature often prevails over common sense, we need to stay vigilant. This Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Advice article tells us to not trust the voice. Call the person who supposedly contacted you and verify the story. Use a phone number you know is theirs. If you can’t reach your loved one, try to get in touch with them through another family member or their friends.

Yahoo Finance has some additional tips to help you stay ahead of these crooks.

Have a security word

Experts say that security words are one of the most effective forms of defense against voice AI scams. That means coming up with a secret word or phrase, so if a fraudster calls and fails to give the secret phrase, you can be confident that you’re about to be the victim of a ruse.

“If they’re asking for something like a ransom payment for a kidnapping, what is that secret word?” Wasim Khaled, co-founder and chief executive of Blackbird.AI, an AI-powered risk intelligence firm said. “Basically, get ahead of the situation before it gets any further.”

Consider location-tracking services

Dr. Michael Skiba, also known as “Dr. Fraud” for his expertise in scams and crime, said that tracking services like Apple’s Find My or Life360 can help if you think you’re on the receiving end of fraud.

For instance, if a swindler calls you and tells you he’s kidnapped your significant other in another country, you can verify whether that’s true on Find My Friends, which permits users to see their friends’ location on a map.

“So, if you get a call saying that your son or daughter is in Mexico and you look and they’re at their college campus … you’re right off the bat thinking my flag should be out,” Dr. Skiba said.

Be wary of unknown numbers

Steve Grobman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at McAfee, advised folks to screen unexpected phone calls from unknown numbers. Many mobile providers offer call screening, where the caller has to provide identifying information before the user even answers the call. The cell providers sometimes label unknown phone numbers as “Spam Risk” or “Telemarketer.”

“When in doubt, sending an unknown or unexpected number to voicemail is a good approach,” Grobman said.

Be aware of your online presence

Take inventory of your social media accounts and channels where your voice is on display.

“One of the important things to do is to make any social media account private, and that is so that people can’t just go onto a public Instagram account, grab audio from that video clip, and use it to synthesize a voice,” said Khaled. “That’s going to create a much bigger obstacle for anyone so that they can’t have their voice out there.”

Grobman warned users about the dangers of having too much information available online. He said that social media offers “a gold mine” for scammers who want to tailor their messaging to particular individuals.

“To better mitigate these risks, periodically review your social media connections and privacy settings to ensure you’re sharing only with people you know and trust,” he said. “If you have an open social media profile, it’s critical to be more on guard when it comes to communications you receive, as the public, including scammers, have access to more information about you.”

Hang up and call back

If you think you’re receiving a call from a scammer, hang up and call back. That way, you can confirm the identity of the caller.

“You call them back at their real number,” Khaled said.

Even if the scammer posing as your loved one says they’re calling from a kidnapper cell, still call that loved one back on their usual number.

“If you call back the real number and they pick up, it’s another great way to just quickly spot check,” he said.

Pause and take a deep breath

Scammers try to generate panic to swindle their victims. When experiencing a flight-or-flight response, victims struggle to think clearly and tend to make impulsive decisions, like wiring vast sums of money to an afflicted relative or acquaintance. That’s why Grobman urges us to remain calm.

“Scammers prey on creating a sense of fear and urgency, since it means their victims are much more likely to act first and ask questions later,” he said. “Taking a few seconds to calmly analyze the situation allows users to better identify fraudulent communications.”

“The primary key to avoiding most scams is being vigilant and alert,” he added.

Spread the word

Perhaps the best way to fight back against scams is to spread awareness, Khaled said. Warn your family, friends, and colleagues of the prevalence of AI voice frauds.

“It’s not just your elder relatives now, because they’re not the only ones falling for it,” he added. “So, spreading the word is critical if you happen to be the one that sees the information first.”

If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at If you feel that you’ve fallen victim to a scam, don’t beat yourself up or become embarrassed. Let us know, we’re here to help and can provide you with resources to address the situation.


Presented by Chaunté Stallworth