A disturbing and intricate phone scam, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), has emerged in New York City, leaving unsuspecting victims shaken and out of significant sums of money. This novel scam involves criminals using AI to replicate the voice of a distressed child, manipulating parents into believing their loved ones are in dire need of help.
A Disturbing Deception
One Upper West Side mother recently shared her harrowing experience with The Post. She received a call that she believed to be her 14-year-old daughter, sobbing and pleading for assistance, claiming to have been arrested. In her state of panic, she was connected to an alleged police officer who proceeded to spin a fabricated narrative about her daughter’s involvement in a car accident with a pregnant woman, sending the victim to the hospital.
The imposter then demanded a staggering $15,500 in cash for bail, instructing the mother to deliver it to Manhattan Central Booking immediately. Fearing for her daughter’s safety, the concerned mother rushed to withdraw the money from her bank and was ready to comply when she received an unexpected call from her daughter, who was safe and sound at school taking a chemistry exam.
Reflecting on the ordeal, the mother admitted that in hindsight, there were numerous red flags that should have alerted her to the scam. However, the emotional manipulation and the convincing voice on the other end of the line clouded her judgment.
The Alarming Rise of AI-Enhanced Scams
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first issued a warning about AI phone scams in March, and since then, reports of such scams have surfaced across the nation. Fraudsters harvest voice clips of individuals from spam phone calls or social media content. These clips are then fed into a voice-cloning program, enabling scammers to make the cloned voice say anything they desire.
According to the FTC, consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud schemes last year, representing a 30% increase from the previous year. AI is now being exploited to enhance these scams. Impersonation scams, where fraudsters pose as someone else, are the most common type of fraud, with victims losing an average of $1,400 in phone-based scams.
While younger adults reported losing money more frequently, older adults faced greater financial losses when victimized. This alarming trend has prompted victims like the Upper West Side mother to take precautionary measures, such as refraining from posting on social media and implementing family code words to thwart potential scams in the future.
Preventing Future Victimization
Unfortunately, the Upper West Side mother’s attempt to report the incident to the NYPD’s 20th Precinct yielded little response, as the scammers often use untraceable “burner phones.” However, the lack of official reports hinders authorities from gaining crucial insights into this emerging threat.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, although yet to encounter AI in this context, emphasized its commitment to addressing scams and urged New Yorkers to report any fraudulent activities to their Financial Frauds Bureau at 212-335-8900. As technology continues to evolve, vigilance, awareness, and reporting remain vital tools in combating these sophisticated AI-powered scams and protecting communities from financial devastation.