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"Help! I've Been Kidnapped!" AI and the Family Emergency Hoax

This is a horrible phone call to get. One could hardly be blamed for experiencing feelings of panic, fear, and a desire to get their loved one home safe. The natural reaction is to get the details and make any payment. But before you get a suitcase of cash or make that financial transfer, stop. The kidnapping may be fake. The voice on the other end may not be your loved one's, but may be a very good cloned version of that voice. While these types of scams have existed for a while, the Federal Trade Commission is warning about how scammers are using AI to create fake family emergencies.

Here is how it works. Thanks to YouTube and other social media, there are plenty of voice print samples out there. With the right AI software, a scammer can take those samples and create entire sentences including, "Help, I've been kidnapped! They will only release me if you pay." And like many things in the technology space, what once required a sophisticated operator and sophisticated operation now can be done by small-time operators relatively easily as the necessary software is a lot more accessible and easier to do. These scams can be used to create a number of fake kidnappings requiring ransoms, serious injuries requiring immediate payments for emergency services, or a loved one who just got arrested requiring bail. While these types of hoaxes existed before AI, cloning voices using AI is making these hoaxes easier and more convincing.

So, how do you fight back against these hoaxes? Here are five tips:

  1. Don't panic. This may seem all but impossible to do, but the scammer is relying on your fear and panic to pay right away. As difficult as it is to do, if you get a call like this, try to slow things down.

  2. Look for clues in the call or communication that it might be artificial such as unnatural pauses or responses to anything you might say. While the AI may be good, it is not perfect and those imperfections might come through. In addition, the FTC advises, "Scammers ask you to pay or send money in ways that make it hard to get your money back. If the caller says to wire money, send cryptocurrency, or buy gift cards and give them the card numbers and PINs, those could be signs of a scam."

  3. Attempt to verify the information using numbers you trust. For example, call your loved one or your loved one's friends. Call the hospital if it is a medical emergency. Call the law enforcement agency that the voice claims arrested them.

  4. While it may not work in all cases, create a panic word with your loved ones. Have them insert the panic word (if possible) in any emergency call.

  5. Also, don't broadcast travel plans on social media. Many of these hoaxes are associated with traveling. These types of scams (both past and present) rely heavily on social engineering.

If there is ever a question, call law enforcement. Better safe than sorry. Report any scams or scam attempts to law enforcement the Federal Trade Commission.

For additional information, please contact Aisen Law, PLLC.

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