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Father warns Congress about AI scammer who sounded just like his son

WASHINGTON — Gary Schildhorn was on his way to work in 2020 when he got a phone call from someone who sounded just like his adult son Brett.

“He was crying and talking and said that he had been in an accident,” Schildhorn said as he described the call to our Washington News Bureau. “He had broken his nose. He had hurt a pregnant woman. He was arrested. He was in jail.”

Schildhorn is an attorney in Philadelphia and instinctively wanted to do whatever he could to help his son.

He said he was told his son had a public defender named Barry Goldstein.

The supposed man named Goldstein told Schildhorn he had to wire $9,000 through a bitcoin kiosk, which uses cryptocurrency, in order to bond his son out of jail.

“I’m a father. I’m a lawyer. My son is in trouble,” said Schildhorn. “I’m in action mode… I had to act to help my son.”

On Thursday, he told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging about the moment he realized the caller never really was Brett.

“A few minutes later, a FaceTime call from my son,” said Schildhorn during his testimony. “He’s pointing to his nose. My nose is fine. I’m fine. You’re being scammed.”

Luckily, Schildhorn learned the truth before ever sending any money. But that’s not the case for everyone.

According to lawmakers, scams cost Americans $9 billion last year – and older Americans are especially vulnerable.

Last year, seniors reported losing more than $1.6 billion to fraud, though the actual losses could be as high as $48 billion, according to the office of the Committee Chairman, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania).

“When it comes to artificial intelligence, we need guardrails,” Casey told our Washington News Bureau. “Even someone like Gary who is a lawyer, who is trained to be skeptical, trained to ask tough questions, in the moment, the emotion of having a loved one call you and you think it’s their voice and really isn’t. So, we have to pass legislation to put those guardrails up.”

“It’s going to get worse because we’re at the leading edge of this technology,” said Ranking Member Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana).

Schildhorn said there needs to be ways to better trace cryptocurrency and the criminals behind the scam accounts.

“Find out who owns the accounts,” said Schildhorn. “You need to be able to find who is making these phone calls, to be able to find their identity.”

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