Safety First: Avoiding artificial intelligence kidnapping scams

Technology is advancing and now some scammers are using it to spoof the voices of loved ones and using them to demand ransoms
Scammers are turning to AI to imitate loved one's voices and demanding money by threatening violence
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 4:41 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Your loved one calls needing your help, but can you believe your own ears? It’s a real problem as artificial intelligence continues to advance --- scammers --- spoofing the voices of loved ones and threatening harm to them in digital kidnapping scams.

The FBI says Americans lost tens of millions in extortion scams last year. One of those scams has victims believing their loved one has been kidnapped.

Terri-Rae Elmer was at home when the phone rang.

“I hear this just screeching high pitched, screaming, ‘Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, you have to help me. I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do.’ And it sounded like my older daughter. And then a man comes on. He said: ‘You’re going to give me $5,000 or I’m going to hold the phone up and you can listen while I start cutting your daughter’s fingers off one by one’.”

The caller said he was nearby, and that’s when Elmer realized it was a scam because she knew her daughter was in another state.

Elmer didn’t lose any money, but that’s often not the case. Experts explain that scammers use artificial intelligence to replicate the voice of a loved one with the intention of stealing your money.

Michael Peasley is the FBI’s Unit Cheif for the International Violent Crime Unit and has advice for anyone who might receive a scam call.

“The first thing we tell people is before you do anything, hang up the phone and try to contact your loved one,” he said.

If that’s not possible, Peasley suggests asking the caller some questions. It’s also a good idea for your family to share locations -- so you can see where they are at all times. These are just some simple steps -- that can keep you from falling victim to thieves looking to prey on your fear.