If you think you have a good grasp of what a phishing email looks like or what a scam call sounds like, don't be so sure.
Technology is making mimicking what a person sounds like much easier. As a result, the so-called "grandparent scam" is getting more sophisticated with help from AI, artificial intelligence.
We got to see firsthand how it can work, and it is a bit disturbing.
You may be familiar with the scam, where scammers try to impersonate a close relative by making it sound like there's a crisis to get money. Now, with help from AI, fooling parents and grandparents is easier than ever.
"Hi Grandma, I need your help!"
Dave Hatter of Intrust IT Security says scammers can now use free AI programs to capture a relative's voice, then use it in a scam call.
"With as little as 3 seconds of audio, you can clone someone's voice," he said.
To demonstrate, he recorded me reading a line of text using one of several free AI programs available online.
"Once upon a time, the King's youngest son ....." I read, which is a short excerpt from a children's story.
Then he typed a common phrase you’d hear from a scammer, and the AI program had my voice say it.
"Hi Grandma, it's John calling. I need your help," the computerized voice said, sounding like a slightly synthesized version of my voice. It's not perfect, but to your 90-year-old grandmother, it could convince her that you were in trouble and needed her to wire you some money.
"If I got a voicemail from you, John, I would assume it was you talking to me," Hatter said.
Scammers could also use it to mimic a teen's voice for the "kidnapping scam," where it appears a child has been kidnapped. Pete Nicoletti with the cybersecurity firm Check Point says a scammer only needs a snippet of video from social media.
"They can download a speech that you gave from a Linkedin profile that you did something in public," he said.
Or they could take your voice off an Instagram or TikTok video, as they only need a few seconds. Then they can have your voice calling your grandparents or parents, saying you are in desperate trouble and need money.
AI helping with email scams, too
AI is also making it harder to spot phishing emails. Nicoletti says AI tools clean up the grammar and spelling errors that typically help you spot a scam.
"It lowers the bar for criminals to create phishing emails en masse," he said.
So the next time you get a call or message from a loved one, Hatter says, be careful.
"You assume it must be them. It sounds so much like them," he said.
If they claim they are in trouble, make sure it's really them by calling or texting them directly. And alert your older relatives to this new version of an old scam.
That way you are not fooled, and you don't waste your money.
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