Eddie Cumberbatch was sitting in his Chicago apartment in April when he received a desperate call from his father. When Eddie, a 19-year-old TikToker, heard his father's voice, he knew something was wrong. His father asked if Eddie was home and if everything was okay. "It was a very strange way for him to start the conversation," Eddie told me.
After Eddie said he was safe at home, his father asked him if he had been in a car accident. Eddie was amazed: not only had he not been in an accident, but he hadn't driven a car in six months. His father was relieved, but Eddie was confused: why did he think he had been in a car accident?
His father explained that someone called him from a foreign number. When Eddie's grandfather answered, he sounded like Eddie on the phone. This "Eddie" said that he was in a car accident and that he needed money immediately. Fortunately for Eddie's family, his father was immediately suspicious of the call. When his father found out about the incident from Eddie's grandfather over the phone, he called Eddie to verify the story. He knew it was inappropriate for Eddie to ask for money; besides, Eddie didn't even have a car in Chicago. His father's call to Eddie confirmed that Eddie was not on the phone. In reality, his family was the target of a terrifying new scam: scammers used an artificial interpretation of Eddie's voice to swindle money from his loved ones.
Pretending to steal money is nothing new. Known as "scammer scams," these scammers are reported to be the most common type of fraud in the United States.die Federal Trade Commission. People reported losing $2.6 billion to scams in 2022, up from $2.4 billion the year before.
But new technologies are making scams even more damaging. In March, the FTC announced that scammers began using artificial intelligence to stage "family emergencies," in which scammers convince people their relative needs them so they can get cash or private information. in an aprilquestionnaireSurveyed by adults in seven countries, conducted by global security software company McAfee, a quarter of respondents reported having experienced some form of AI voice fraud: one in 10 said they had been personally attacked, while the 15% said it had happened to someone they knew. .
With just a small fee, a few minutes, and an Internet connection, criminals can use AI for personal gain. HeRapportMcAfee found that in some cases, a fraudster needed as little as three seconds of audio to clone a person's voice. And on social media, it's easy to find a snippet of someone's voice that can then be used as a weapon.
While Eddie and his family managed to avoid the scam, many victims of these AI scammers are less fortunate. And as AI technology becomes more widespread, these scams are getting more sophisticated.
super charged scam
Scams come in many forms, but they generally work the same way: A scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. According to theFTC websiteThere are cases of scammers posing as lovers, IRS officials, health care providers, computer technicians, and family members. Most scams happen over the phone, but they can also happen on social media, text messages, or email. in a traumaticFall, Richard Mendelstein, a software engineer at Google, received a call from what sounded like his daughter Stella was crying out for help. He was ordered to withdraw $4,000 in cash as ransom. It was only after he sent the money to a money transfer center in Mexico City that he realized he had been scammed and his daughter had been safe at school the entire time.
Previous variants of virtual kidnapping scams, such as the one that victimized Mendelstein's family, used generic language outputs that loosely matched the child's age and sex. The scammers assumed that parents would panic at the sound of a frightened teenager, even if the voice did not match their child's. But with AI, the voice on the other end of the phone can now sound scary like the real thing.Del Washington Postreported in March that aCanadian couple scammed out of $21,000after hearing an AI-generated voice that sounded like his son. Another case this year involved scammersthe cloned voicea 15-year-old girl and posed as the kidnappers to extort a $1 million ransom.
Taking my photos and uploading posts to Instagram is one thing. But trying to clone my voice is really weird and it scared me.
As an online creator with over 100,000 followers on TikTok, Eddie knew that fake accounts impersonating him would inevitably pop up. The day before the scam call, Eddie's fake account appeared on Instagram and he started messaging his family and friends. AI takes plans to the next level.
"Taking my photos and uploading my posts to Instagram is one thing," Eddie told me. "But trying to clone my voice is really weird and it scared me."
Eddie called the rest of his family to warn them about the scam and made aTikTok Videosabout their experiences in conscientization.
Most of us probably think that we would recognize the voices of our loved ones instantly. However, McAfee found that around 70% of the adults surveyed were unsure if they could tell the difference between cloned and real voices. TO2019 studyfound that the brain did not register any significant difference between real and computer-generated voices. Study subjects misidentified morphed (software-altered) images as real 58% of the time, leaving scammers plenty of room to exploit. Also, more and more people are giving their real voice to scammers: McAfee said that 53% of adults give their voice data online each week.
Whether it's a kidnapping, robbery, car accident, or simply being stuck somewhere with no money to get home, 45% of McAfee respondents said they responded to a voicemail or voice note that sounded like their boyfriend or lover, especially if it seemed to be coming from your partner, parent, or child. McAfee also found that more than a third of AI fraud victims lost more than $1,000, and 7% lost more than $5,000. HeFTCreported that scam victims lost an average of $748 in the first quarter of 2023.
Although the artificial intelligence technology that powers these scams has been around for a while, it has gotten better, cheaper, and more accessible.
"One of the biggest things to recognize about the advances in AI this year is that it's about bringing these technologies to a lot more people, including real scaling within the cyber stakeholder community," said Steve Grobman, director of McAfee technology. "Cybercriminals can use generative AI to spoof voices and deep spoofs in ways that previously required much more sophistication."
He added that cybercriminals are like entrepreneurs: they look for the most efficient ways to make money. "In the past, these scams were very lucrative because when they did pay out, they would often pay out quite large sums of money," Grobman said. “But if someone, instead of running a love scam for three months to get $10,000, someone can do a fake audio scam that runs in 10 minutes and gets the same result. That will be much more lucrative.”
Previous phone scams relied on the acting skills of the scammer or a certain level of gullibility on the part of the victim, but now AI does most of the work. Popular AI audio platforms like Murf, Resemble, and ElevenLabs allow users to create realistic voices using text-to-speech technology. The low barrier to entry for these programs (most vendors offer free trials, and a computer science degree is not required to crack these tools) makes them attractive to scammers. The scammer uploads an audio file of someone's voice to one of these sites, and the site creates an AI model of the voice. With a small audio file, scammers can achieve a 95% vote match. Then the scammer can type whatever they want and the AI voice will say what is typed in real time.
Once voter scammers commit their crime, they are elusive. Victims often have limited information that law enforcement can use, and with voicemail scammers operating from anywhere in the world, law enforcement faces numerous logistical and legal challenges. With little information and limited police resources, most cases remain unsolved.In Great BritainOnly one in 1,000 fraud cases leads to a prosecution.
Grobman, however, believes that knowing that scams exist, don't worry. When he gets one of those calls, all he needs is the ability to step back and ask a few questions that only the loved one on the other end of the line will know the answer to. HeFTCI also recommended putting the call on hold and trying to call your relative separately to verify the story if a loved one tells you they need money, as Eddie's father did. Even if a suspicious call comes from a family member's number, it could also be fake. Another telltale sign is when the caller asks for money through dubious and elusive channels like wire transfers, cryptocurrencies, or gift cards. Security experts even recommend agreeing on a safe word with family members that can be used to distinguish between a real emergency and a scam.
As AI becomes ubiquitous, such scams threaten our ability to trust even our closest relatives. Fortunately, the US government is trying to control fraudulent uses of AI. Better adviceJudge Neil Gorsuchstressed in February the limitations of legal protections that shield social networks from lawsuits when it comes to AI-generated content, meaning websites are largely spared from liability for what third parties post. ANDVice President Kamala HarrisIn May, the CEOs of major tech companies said they had a "moral" responsibility to protect society from the dangers of AI. This also applies to the FTCsaid companyin February: "You should understand the reasonably foreseeable risks and implications of your AI product before bringing it to market."
Ally Armeson, program executive director of the Cybercrime Support Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping businesses and individuals combat cybercrime, agreed that some regulation was needed. "Generative AI is evolving very quickly," she told me. "Like any technology, generative AI can be misused or exploited for malicious purposes, so regulation will undoubtedly be necessary as these generative AI tools continue to evolve."
But as various AI cybersecurity solutions roll out, Armeson believes it's best for now to stick with them and keep the conversation going: "Until all consumers have access to these security solutions, the onus is on us." us as individuals to understand the new cyber threat landscape and protect ourselves.”
Eva Upton-ClarkHe is the author of reports on culture and society.
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