The Federal Trade Commission warns that scammers are using artificial intelligence to clone people’s voices, and the crimes are leading to distressing situations for people around the country.
Criminals are tricking victims into thinking they’re talking to a relative who may need money for reasons like paying for damages from a car accident, or paying ransom for a kidnapping.
Experts say these scams are disturbing, but they work.
"This is, without hesitation, the scariest thing I have ever seen," said Scott Hermann, the founder of financial and identity protection company IdentityIQ.
Hermann says criminals just need a 20-second clip of someone talking, which is often pulled from social media, and they can make an eerily similar clone of their voice.
"All the way to the point that a mother can’t tell the difference between her own child, and a machine," Hermann said.
Maryland resident Gerry Scally got a call from his supposed grandson last month saying he was having a very bad morning.
"It was just exactly like Noah. It was unbelievable. It’s scary," Scally said.
Scally asked his grandson what happened. The voice replied, "I was involved in a car accident and I have a broken nose."
But he thought something sounded off about his grandson’s voice. The person on the call spoke a little slower than his grandson. So Scally hung up and likely avoided a scam. His grandson was actually at school, just fine.
"These are sophisticated groups of people. They’re often overseas. They’re working out of an office building," Hermann said.
IdentityIQ says voice-cloning scams are relatively new. They’ve only started getting reports about them within roughly the past year.
"The worst part of this is, every week we’re getting more calls, seeing more victims, and the reason we’re seeing more victims is because it’s effective," Hermann said.
The FTC has some tips if you get a call from a loved one asking for money. You should call the person back using 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.