A recent report by security/anti-virus company McAfee noted that AI-based voice-call scams are on the rise, with some countries such as India reporting 47% of people having experienced one or knowing someone who has experienced one (based on a survey of 7,054 people, roughly 1000 per country surveyed). While it's not clear how they selected their surveyees, and hence how biased the report is, it is certainly clear that these scams are happening. How do they work?
Well it starts with someone targeting you, specifically. They have to get access to a voice recording of a loved one, either by calling them directly and recording the call, or by getting their voice from a voicemail recorded message. They then feed that audio into a voice-recognition/re-creation tool, powered by artificial intelligence. This enables the scammer to mimic the voice of your loved one, simply by typing text into the vocal re-creation tool.
The tools only require a very small amount of audio to mimic a voice - as little as 3 seconds of someone speaking, in some cases. If all of this this sounds like science fiction to you, it's not. Try this vocal re-creation of David Attenborough's voice on youtube, for example.
Once the scammer has this capability, they can call you and mimic your loved one's voice, usually to extort money in some way. In one instance a scammer faked an American woman's daughter's voice, pretending that she was being held hostage. In that case the woman knew where her daughter was, but was still surprised by the accuracy of the voice.
This scam can be augmented by what is called 'caller ID spoofing', where the scammer manages to trick the phone system into thinking that the call is coming from your loved one's phone. In New Zealand I've seen this happen in the past with Auckland numbers in particular, I'm unsure whether it's possible to spoof cellphone numbers here.
How can one protect against this? The mimicry can be unsettlingly accurate, particularly if the scammer has access to a wider pool of the person's vocal samples. The first thing to do is to not share your voice publicly on social media or youtube, and ask your loved ones not to do so either. The second is to have security questions - things only your loved one would know the answer to, perhaps early childhood memories - and keep these hidden from public view. Lastly, try not to share your private phone numbers publicly.
Then, if you get called by someone who sounds like your loved one and they're trying to get money from you, you can ask your security question, or for something only they would know, and figure out whether or not it's them. I am liking the future less and less. How about you?
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