The family emergency scam, also known as the grandparent scam, has been around for a while. Scammers will call and claim to be a family member, such as a grandchild, who needs money right away to get out of trouble. Of course, if the person calling sounds nothing like your family member, it can be easy to spot this scam.
However, scammers can now be a lot more convincing with the help of artificial intelligence. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorney general offices are warning consumers to be on the lookout for scammers who are using AI voice cloning software to sound like family members in need.
Here’s what to know about how AI voice scams work and how to avoid them.
How AI voice scams work
Family emergency scams typically start with a phone call from someone claiming to be a family member who has some sort of problem and needs money fast. Sometimes, scammers will use a generic greeting, such as, “This is your grandson.” However, many will know what names and details to use because they’ve already gathered information through hacking or from social media sites, according to the FTC.
For example, if you share on social media that your child or grandchild just got a driver’s license and a new car, a scammer could call claiming to be that child and asking for money to be bailed out of jail after getting into an accident. If the scammer happened to find any sort of video or audio clip online of that child talking, the scammer could use AI voice cloning to sound just like the child.
According to research by online protection service McAfee, just three seconds of audio and a basic level of experience with AI is enough to create an 85% match of someone’s voice. Even better matches can be created with more effort. The more accurate the clone, the more likely scammers are to dupe victims into sending money, according to McAfee.
How to spot family emergency AI voice scams
Because voice cloning software can make it difficult—even impossible—to identify whether someone calling is actually a family member in need, look for these other telltale signs that it’s a scammer contacting you.
- Requests to act immediately, often with a warning that something bad will happen if you don’t do what the caller is requesting
- Requests for a nontraditional form of payment, such as a wire transfer, gift card or cryptocurrency
- Requests for sensitive or personal information
- Requests not to tell other family members, such as parents, about the situation
How to avoid these scams
You can reduce your risk of falling for AI voice scams by taking the following steps:
Choose a code word or safe word to share with family members and close friends. Then you can ask the person calling for that word to verify if it’s one of your family members or friends.
Hang up if you’re not sure who is calling or if you’re getting an unusual request. Then call the friend or family member who supposedly was calling at the phone number you usually use to contact that person. If you can’t reach the person who supposedly was calling, contact another friend or family member who might know that person’s whereabouts.
Be careful what you share on social media to avoid providing scammers with information they can use to take advantage of you. To be safer, set your profile to private so that only certain friends and family can see what you post.
Sign up for identity monitoring to be alerted if your personal information is being misused or sold on the dark web. Having this information can help you remain vigilant if you get calls, emails or text messages requesting payments or personal information. The Carefull service provides credit and identity monitoring and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, along with 24/7 monitoring of bank, credit and investment accounts.