What You Need To Know About The AI Kidnapping Phone Call Scam

a confused woman looking at her phone

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, criminals are finding new ways to exploit this technology. One such method is through the use of AI in kidnapping phone call schemes. In these scams, cyber criminals utilize AI to replicate the voice of one of your loved ones, such as your son, daughter, husband, or wife, making it seem as though they have been kidnapped. A ransom demand is typically made for their release.

This type of scam, also known as the virtual kidnapping scam, can have devastating effects, causing severe emotional and psychological distress, as well as financial loss. Therefore, it’s critical that you educate yourself on how to recognize the signs of an AI kidnapping phone call scam, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones, and know how to respond if you become a target of such criminal activity.

How Does The AI Kidnapping Phone Call Scam Work?

It all begins with a criminal obtaining information about you and one of your loved ones, such as your daughter, for example. The criminal may have been monitoring your daughter on social media, waiting for her to post a video, if she hasn't already. Once scammers obtain a video with your daughter's voice, they use AI voice-cloning tools to manipulate it and make the scam call sound more believable. Unfortunately, this tactic has been successful for scammers, as victims who have fallen for or almost fallen for this scam report hearing their distressed loved one's voice.

Alternatively, criminals can obtain a recording of your daughter's voice through other illicit means. They will ensure that your daughter is away from you, such as at school or on vacation, before making the scam call. During the call, you may hear what sounds like your daughter crying or screaming, followed by threats of violence towards your 'AI-generated' daughter and demands for ransom. 

To make matters worse, the scam kidnapping call may appear to come from your daughter's phone number, even though it is not. This is achieved through phone number spoofing or Caller ID spoofing, where the Caller ID displayed to the recipient of the call is altered.

For example, in April, 2023, an Arizona mother shared a harrowing experience in which scammers allegedly used artificial intelligence to replicate her daughter's voice in order to demand a $1 million ransom. Jennifer DeStefano recounted how she received a call from an unfamiliar number, initially considering letting it go to voicemail. However, upon recalling that her 15-year-old daughter, Brie, was on a ski trip, she decided to answer the call to ensure everything was alright. Little did she know that this simple decision would turn her world upside down.

Upon answering the call, DeStefano heard what she believed to be her daughter's voice, crying out "Mom!" in distress. Concerned, she inquired about what had happened, only to be met with sobs and tears from the other end of the line. The situation took a terrifying turn when a male voice instructed "Brie" to recline and remain still. The caller then proceeded to threaten DeStefano, warning her against involving law enforcement or anyone else, lest he harm her daughter.

DeStefano was left shaken by the chilling threats, as the caller detailed his sinister intentions. The thought of her daughter being in danger and the menacing tone of the mysterious voice left her in a state of fear and panic. The gravity of the situation became all too real as the caller painted a grim picture of what could unfold if his demands were not met.

Throughout the call, DeStefano could hear her daughter's desperate pleas for help in the background, intensifying her fear and anxiety.

It wasn't until another mother intervened, prompting DeStefano to contact 911 and her husband, that the truth emerged - Brie was safe on her ski trip all along. Despite the relief of knowing her daughter was unharmed, DeStefano couldn't shake the chilling realization that the scammers had convincingly replicated Brie's voice and emotions.

How to Detect AI Kidnapping Phone Call Scams

It is understandable that any parent would feel a sense of panic and anxiety upon receiving a call from an unknown individual claiming to have kidnapped their child, especially when the victim can be heard crying and pleading for help in the background. Although child kidnapping cases are rare in the United States, the recent surge in AI kidnapping phone call scams is a cause for concern. Therefore, you need to be prepared and vigilant in order to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to these scams.

If you receive a phone call from someone demanding payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, there are several indicators to look out for:
  • The call comes from an unknown number: The call may come from an unknown number, rather than a spoofed one. In such cases, it is advisable to try reaching your loved one by calling them from another phone or having someone else call their phone.
  • The caller goes to great lengths to keep you on the phone: Real kidnappers typically do not engage in lengthy conversations over the phone. They usually inform the victim's family of the ransom amount and hang up after the family hears the victim's voice.
  • The caller wouldn't let you speak to the victim: If the caller refuses to allow you to speak to the victim but still claims to be holding them hostage, this is a red flag.
  • The ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service or gift card: Authentic kidnappers do not accept ransom money via wire transfer. They usually demand the money to be delivered to a specific location.
To prevent falling victim to the AI Kidnapping Phone Call Scam, you need to carefully manage your privacy settings on social media platforms and review the information you choose to share publicly. The more personal information you make available, the easier it is for scammers to manipulate and deceive you. Make sure you have open discussions with your family and loved ones about the dangers of virtual kidnapping, especially before embarking on any domestic or international travel. 

Additionally, refrain from posting real-time location updates or travel plans on social media, as this information can be exploited by scammers. Avoid disclosing personal details to individuals you are not familiar with, as scammers often use this information to enhance the credibility of their schemes. 

Furthermore, consider establishing a unique passphrase with your family members as a security measure. In the event that you are contacted by someone claiming to be a loved one in distress, you can verify their identity by asking for the passphrase.

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