Don't let voice cloning trick you into handing over distress victim payments: Internet Scambusters #1,028
It had to happen and it's frightening - voice cloning scams are a real thing.
Security experts say crooks are stealing audio clips from what you say on social media or in telesales calls and using them to create new speech and pretend to be kidnap victims or others in distress.
And that's not all. Businesses and banks are also in danger of being duped into handing over large sums of money because of cloning technology, as we report in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Is Someone Stealing Your Words For Voice Cloning?
High-tech scammers have started using voice cloning to make their imposter calls sound more realistic than ever.
They're using the technology to imitate the voices of friends and relatives for distress calls like those used for grandparent scams or fake kidnap messages.
Security experts have feared this development for some time and now there's evidence crooks are using stolen voice clips from online videos and even telemarketing calls to mimic people supposedly caught up in some sort of emergency.
Before, the crooks would only use very short statements when posing as someone else to avoid victims recognizing that the voice wasn't genuine. Now, they're able to string together longer statements. In the not-too-distant future, they'll be able to use the technology to answer questions from suspicious call recipients.
As we've previously reported, scam distress calls usually feature an imposter claiming to be a relative or friend in trouble and in urgent need of money. For example, they may say they've been in an accident, have been arrested, or are stranded in a foreign country.
Because of the urgency, they're able to insist that money be sent to them immediately via cash or wiring services which, as all Scambusters subscribers know, is untraceable and often the first signal that a call is a scam.
In an even worse case scenario, villains claim to have kidnapped a relative and demand a ransom payment. If the call recipient asks to speak to the victim, the crooks usually refuse, though it's common practice to run distressing sounds of crying or screaming in the background.
But in an incident in Texas earlier this year, a father received a call that sounded exactly like his daughter claiming she'd be kidnapped. Then the crook got on the line and told the parent to meet him and hand over a payment to secure his daughter's release, with the usual caution that they should not contact the police.
"It was her. It was her voice. I know it was," the dad told a Houston TV station.
Fortunately, the crime did not play out to the crooks' plan. The parent was told to stay on the line. He took cash to a grocery store where he was told by the crook to wire it to a destination in Mexico. But before he did, the daughter contacted her mother and police were able to intercept him as he was about to hand over the money.
Ryan Kennedy, a university professor specializing in artificial intelligence (AI), told the TV station: "We post videos on TikTok, on Twitter. They'll find examples of your speech online, or wherever they can find it, and then they will put it into a program. It can then clone that and they can use that to get you, your voice, to say things you didn't actually say."
After the incident, the FBI issued a warning that voice cloning scams are on the rise, especially in border states, though they are predicted to spread throughout the US.
Law enforcement and security experts fear recent incidents are only the tip of an iceberg and that voice cloning is about to move into the mainstream of scamming.
For example, there have been a couple of incidents in which crooks have been able to mimic the voices of senior businesspeople, instructing employees or banks to transfer large amounts of money to them.
In one case, a bank manager received a call from a person whose voice he thought he recognized as being a director of a client company telling him to transfer money to finance an acquisition. The call was backed up by a spoof email from the same individual and the money was transferred. It hasn't been recovered.
Security experts also worry that voice cloning may be being used to spoof political donation requests - for example by mimicking the voice of a well-known politician.
Voice Cloning Safety Tips
To protect yourself against voice cloning scammers, the first point is to be aware that your voice, if it exists anywhere on the Internet - social media being the best example - can be copied.
Furthermore, high-tech crooks are refining the technology so that it's capable of not only responding to questions but also adding emotional effects to the voice to suit the circumstances of the call.
Bluntly, we're all at risk. That means you should be on your guard about any call that seems to come from someone you think you know asking for money or for you to take some key action that would require authorization.
If you get a distress call, here's what experts say you should do:
- Use another phone to call the individual or someone who should know where they are, to check on their location and safety.
- Have a secret family password that you can ask the supposed victim for, to check it's really them.
- Ask other questions. At this stage, voice cloning is not advanced enough to respond immediately and there's usually a time lag before the reply comes.
Additionally, if you get a business or political donation call from someone you think you know, ask if you can call them back on their known, listed number to confirm the transaction. If they're cagey or claim not to be using their regular number, that's a big red flag.
If it's a genuine call, they'll be glad to know you're being cautious!
And in all cases, don't be tricked by caller ID. These are easily generated by computer.
For the future, cloning technology is only going to get smarter - and it may even be used to generate fake video calls. Sadly, we're reaching a point where you can't believe either your eyes or your ears.
This Week's Scam Alerts
Weird Text Messages: Are you receiving texts that come from someone who seems to know you but you don't know them, asking a question like "What time are we meeting?" Or they may refer to an incident, like an undelivered package, with a link to click. Your first instinct might be to reply or click. Don't. In the first case, spammers are harvesting names and numbers of people who respond to messages. In the second, they're phishing for personal account info.
Don't Pay: Fake invoices from genuine PayPal accounts are surging. Crooks open a free PayPal account and then fire off the invoices, knowing they stand a good chance of evading security software. If you don't recognize the supposed order or don't have a relationship with the sender, don't pay. If you do owe them money, double check with their known contact information - but don't click on links or use phone numbers provided in the invoice.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!