We are in era where AI can recreate someone’s voice, and scammers are taking notice, with one San Rafael couple almost paying $15,000 to con artists who’d accurately mimicked their son’s voice in a panicked phone call.
A San Rafael mother received a terrifying phone call in October, and a voice on the other line was a perfect replica of her son saying, “Mom, mom, I’ve been in a car accident!” Then another man came on the line saying that he was a police officer, that her son had run a stop sign and injured a pregnant woman in the accident, and that he was going to be taken to jail. This was followed by another call from someone claiming to be a local public defender, saying that she and her husband needed to pay $15,000 bail ASAP to get their son out of jail.
Except the son was nowhere near the scene of this fake San Luis Obispo auto accident which never took place. He was in his living room studying throughout all of these phone exchanges. And as the Chronicle reports, it was an AI-generated version of the son’s voice that scammers used to set the scheme in motion.
“Twenty years ago, you needed the resources of a Hollywood studio or a nation state to pull that off,” FBI San Francisco special agent in charge Robert Tripp tells the Chronicle. Tripp says that scammers can now “fabricate a voice using AI tools that are available either in the public domain for free, or at a very low cost.”
This particular scheme was eventually foiled, several hours in, when father Andy Trapp called the San Luis Obispo police and jail, only to find no record of their son being arrested or incarcerated. Trapp said it set off his alarm bells when the so-called public defender said the money would be picked up by a courier coming to the Trapps’ home.
So yes, it’s great that the Trapps were not scammed out of the $15,000. But the San Rafael Police Department reportedly told them they cannot pursue or prosecute the case, illustrating how the law may not have caught up with the expanding risks of AI tools in the hands of bad players.
And it’s not all that reassuring that the FBI encourages you to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which they evaluate for trends, because the FBI cannot be sure whether the perpetrators are domestic. Meanwhile, the California Attorney General’s office also has a consumer complaint form to file against unethical businesses or companies. But again, these forms are not going to get fast action against a form of crime that may be expanding rapidly.
Image: Voice assistant concept. Vector sound wave. Microphone voice control technology, voice and sound recognition. Hi-tech AI assistant voice, background wave flow, equalizer. (Getty Images)