Science & Tech

AI scam tricked mother into $1 million ransom for her 'kidnapped daughter'

AI scam tricked mother into $1 million ransom for her 'kidnapped daughter'
Police believe AI voice cloning used to scam seniors

A mother fell victim to a horrific AI scam that used her daughter's voice to beg for help.

Jennifer DeStefano from Arizona recalled receiving the terrifying call demanding $1 million for her "daughter's release."

"I never doubted for one second it was her," she told WKYT. "That’s the freaky part that really got me to my core."

At the time, her 15-year-old daughter Brie was away on a ski trip.

"I pick up the phone, and I hear my daughter’s voice, and it says, ‘Mom!’ and she’s sobbing.

"I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘Mom, I messed up,’ and she’s sobbing and crying."

She explained how a man came on the phone, and told DeStefano he had her daughter. He threatened to take action if she got authorities involved.

"'You call the police, you call anybody, I’m going to pop her so full of drugs. I’m going to have my way with her, and I’m going to drop her off in Mexico'."

DeStefano said she could still hear her daughter sobbing in the background.

For her "release", he demanded $1 million – but later dropped it to $50,000 when the heartbroken mother said she didn't have the ransom money.

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Speaking about the scam created using AI simulation, the mother said "It was completely her voice. It was her inflection. It was the way she would have cried."

DeStefano, who was at her other daughter's dance studio at the time, kept him talking while a fellow mother called her husband and the police.

Luckily, she was able to confirm her daughter was safe on the skiing trip – and it was in fact a chilling scam.

What was surprising for the mother was that Brie hadn't put he voice on her social media accounts. "She has a few public interviews for sports/school that have a large sampling of her voice," she said.

"However, this is something to be extra concerned with kids who do have public accounts."

Subbarao Kambhampati, a computer science professor and AI authority at Arizona State University, said: "Now there are ways in which you can do this with just three seconds of your voice. Three seconds. And with the three seconds, it can come close to how exactly you sound."

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