By Joel Dresang

Swindlers are opportunists. So no surprise that they’re applying artificial intelligence to enhance impostor scams.

Consider the longstanding trick of calling someone pretending to be a loved one who urgently needs money to avoid dire consequences like being stranded in a far-off country or getting locked up by authorities.

Now, using AI, fraudsters are making those cons more believable. They copy the voice of someone you know and make it sound as if that person is calling you to send them money.

“With a short audio clip — maybe from content posted online — and a voice-cloning program, a scammer could call you and sound just like your family member,” the Federal Trade Commission explains in an alert.

The point of such scams is to convince you to panic so much that you don’t think clearly. You don’t question the caller or the request, and you honor their plea to keep it all a secret.

The details of fake emergency pleas vary, including the purported circumstances and the form of money to send – gift cards, cryptocurrency, payment apps, money orders.

But the remedy stays the same.

First, be skeptical. Even if it sounds like someone you know. Even if they provide personal information to convince you they are who they say (information that could be gleaned from a social media site or through computer hacking). Advice from the FTC:

  • Resist the pressure to react immediately.
  • Hang up — or tell the person you’ll call them right back.
  • Use a phone number that you know is right to call or message the person who said they called you.
  • Call someone else you trust who knows that person to figure out whether the story is true.

The bottom line is to scrutinize any unexpected requests you get for money – especially if there’s insistence on immediacy, secrecy and some extraordinary payment arrangement.

And if you think you’ve been hit on by an impostor, tell your friends and family, report it to the FTC. Give others a heads-up.

Joel Dresang is vice president-communications for Landaas & Company.

Learn more
Scammers use AI to enhance their family emergency schemes, from the Federal Trade Commission
Scammers Use Fake Emergencies To Steal Your Money, from the FTC
How To Avoid Imposter Scams, from the FTC

(Heads Up is an occasional alert on consumer and investment scams.)

(initially posted April 25, 2024)