NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Middle Tennessee authorities have issued a warning about a terrifyingly convincing scam where criminals use artificial intelligence to con people out of cash.
The Hendersonville Police Department recently urged the public to take caution following reports of a scam in the area involving callers pretending to be friends or family members of the victim, claiming they were in trouble, and demanding money.
All that is needed to carry out the voice mimicking scam is a couple of minutes of a voice recording.
“They’re able to use increasingly small snippets of voice samples in order to be able to train a model to imitate somebody’s voice,” Doug Schmidt, a computer science professor at Vanderbilt University, explained.
Then, scammers can use the fake voice to make the real person seem like they’ve said just about anything.
News 2 demonstrated the technology to viewers using an artificial intelligence-generated voice of Dr. Phil. The software we used was free; the paid version sounds much more realistic.
According to Schmidt, scammers have taken advantage of that by paying just $6 to $10 a month for the software.
“Anybody who really wants to turn this into a lucrative cybercrime business, with very, very low barrier to entry, can create extremely powerful tools that will fool most people, and this is actually incredibly alarming,” Schmidt said.
The CEO and president of the Better Business Bureau for Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, Robyn Householder, told News 2 the best way to avoid falling victim is to simply not answer the phone when an unknown number calls.
“A legitimate caller, a true friend, a company you’ve worked with, a charity you have a relationship with, they’re going to leave a message,” Householder said. “A scammer won’t leave a message, and that’s quite frankly the best way to protect yourself.”
If you do answer the phone when a con artist calls, Householder recommended taking time to process what is happening before rushing to send them money. You can also tell the caller you’ll call back later, so the other person doesn’t have the chance to carry out a scam.
“We like to say scammers are nothing more than really amazing opportunists, and so they just seize the moment and take the opportunity to then take your money,” Householder explained.
In addition, social media gives scammers access to more information about potential victims so they can personalize the crimes they commit. Not only will the voice on the other line sound like a loved one, but the words they’re saying could further trick the target.
Schmidt offered additional advice to avoid succumbing to this scam.
“The way to trick [the scammer] is to ask them about things that you did together that didn’t happen, because it’s a lot harder to discover what you didn’t do together than to discover what you did do,” the computer science professor said.
Most importantly, Schmidt encouraged community members to be skeptical of every call, email, etc.
“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Schmidt added. “If we want to have a free society where we can interact with each other in a relatively unfettered way, we have to be increasingly vigilant to these scams.”
To report a scam to the BBB, click here.