How to Avoid the Latest Financial Scam: AI Voice Cloning

Black woman in yellow sweater with worried expression on her face as she looks at her phone

Imagine receiving a call from a loved one who says they’re in distress and urgently needs your help. Your heart beats rapidly, and your breath becomes shallow. All your senses are heightened as you listen intently to what your loved one needs from you. But subtle clues drop, and you soon realize the person with whom you’re speaking is a total stranger and not your loved one.

You’re on the phone with a fraudster trying to obtain enough information to control your identity, finances, or both. Unfortunately, some people don’t realize this and are victimized by voice cloning, one of the shocking realities of artificial intelligence (AI). Fraudsters use this technology to imitate the voices of family members to trick you into opening your wallet or divulging personal information.

Here’s what you should know to protect yourself from this increasingly common scam.

How AI Voice Cloning Scams Work

Scammers can mimic anyone’s voice using audio samples from online sources or in-person recordings. Using voice cloning software, a scammer can easily create a text-to-speech file in which a voice familiar to you details a fake emergency or other catastrophic situation.

The recorded message can then be left as a voicemail to ensure you know that a relative needs your help immediately. But there’s more — scammers can use AI-cloned audio files to initiate live calls and make you believe you’re carrying on a conversation with a family member.

Signs of an AI Voice Cloning Scam

Voice cloning software quickly imitates another person’s voice with stunning accuracy. But the deceptive message or conversation might present red flags that reveal you’re being targeted with a bogus call. You need to be aware of what to listen for.

Here are a few clues that you’re the target of a voice cloning scam:

  • Emotional manipulation. Be wary when the familiar-sounding voice creates a sense of urgency or panic by claiming to be in danger or distress but provides few details.
  • Voice inconsistencies. Listen closely to the timbre of the voice. Although AI voice cloning is becoming more sophisticated, subtle irregularities, such as unnatural pauses or speech patterns, can tip you off that a scammer is involved.
  • Untraceable payment requests. If the caller asks that you only send financial help via untraceable payment methods, such as cash, gift cards, or cryptocurrencies, there’s a strong possibility you’re being victimized.
  • Call quality issues. Cheap versions of AI voice cloning software can unintentionally reveal that the call is part of a scam. Listen for sound quality issues such as hissing, echoes, or fluctuating volume.
  • Implausible scenarios. Scammers often make up convoluted stories to persuade you to meet their demands. If the situation they describe seems unlikely or too far-fetched, trust your instincts that a scammer is targeting you.

Protect Yourself From an AI Voice Cloning Scam

One of the best ways to avoid being tricked by these scams is to have a code word or phrase that only you and your loved ones know about and can use in an emergency. That way, you can quickly confirm your loved one’s identity when provided with a predetermined code word or phrase.

If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t verify a caller’s identity immediately, there are other ways to determine whether the caller is a scammer. A scammer will pressure you to make quick decisions without letting you verify the caller’s identity or the legitimacy of their claims. If you receive a call from a familiar voice asking for urgent financial help, follow these steps:

  • Decrease the frantic “speed” of the call. Don’t agree to help until you’ve gathered detailed information and thoroughly understand the situation.
  • Track the caller’s location. If you share mobile app location services with the caller, ask for their location and confirm that the response matches the tracked location.
  • Ask specific questions to verify the identity of the caller. Ask the caller about matters only known to you and the person the caller claims to be.
  • Hang up. Tell the caller you’re in the middle of something and will call them back in a few minutes. Then, end the call.
  • Verify the situation. Immediately call back the individual — using their usual phone number. Do not redial the number that called you. Doing so will reconnect you to the suspected scammer. If you can’t reach the person at their usual number, call mutual friends or family members who can confirm whether the story is true.

“I think, too, that many people hate to let the phone ring,” said David Harper, Hanscom FCU’s Vice President, Fraud, Enterprise Risk Management. “Screening calls one doesn’t recognize is one of the first methods to avoid falling into a trap. Times are different. The old protocols for phone etiquette must be reconsidered given the number of call-related scams these days.”

Awareness is the best defense against these and other fraud schemes. If you suspect an AI-related scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.


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About Author

Tracy Scott
Tracy Scott

Tracy Scott is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and higher education. Her reading list always includes a seemingly odd mix of financial literacy articles and sweet romance novels. Tracy holds a BA in Psychology from UT Austin and has a background in higher education regulatory compliance.

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