Mother tells Congress about AI voice cloning scam during a faked kidnapping scheme

WASHINGTON — Some scammers are now using artificial intelligence to target victims for money! These schemes have members of Congress exploring how this technology can affect your rights.

They’re also hearing directly from AI scam victims like Jennifer DeStefano from Arizona.

“She goes ‘Mom I messed up’ crying and sobbing,” said DeStefano.

She said that was the start of a terrifying phone call she received from an unknown number in January. DeStefano said her older daughter, Bri, was traveling for a skiing trip so she picked up the call in case it was an emergency but instead, she said the call was something she couldn’t have imagined.

“She goes ‘Mom these really bad men have me - help me, help me!’ then she fades off in the background pleading for my help,” said DeStefano. “Then all of a sudden, I hear a man say, ‘lay down and put your head back’ and at that point, I started to get very concerned that something severely was wrong.”

She thought her daughter, Bri, was being kidnapped with the man on the line threatening to hurt the teen if she didn’t send money.

“He proceeds to tell me if I reach out to anybody, call anybody, he’s going to pump her stomach with drugs and have his way with her and drop her in Mexico and I’ll never see my daughter again,” said DeStefano.

But this wasn’t happening at all. It was a deep fake of her daughter’s voice. Experts warn this is one of the newest scams using AI.

“I was like no, no I talked to my daughter. It was her. It was the way she cries. There’s no way it wasn’t just her voice,” she said.

In this case, the family found Bri safely without giving the scammer thousands of dollars. But DeStefano said she can’t shake how real the voice sounded.

“The sound of your voice is like a fingerprint, right? It’s what bonds a mother and a baby,” she said. “As soon as the baby is born, the baby knows the sound of their mother’s voice, it’s familiar to them and the mother knows the sound of her cry that’s why she knows it’s her child who fell across the room.”

Now she’s sharing her story on Capitol Hill and urging Congress to take action.

“If we don’t put regulation in, if we don’t put consequences in all we’re doing is enabling this and my fear is how far does it have to go,” she said.

Lawmakers from both parties are weighing the risks and benefits of Artificial Intelligence.

“AI capabilities are growing rapidly and in ways even its creators cannot predict, and already, it’s changing our lives. American families are now threatened by AI-enabled scams, made far more sophisticated through this technology than traditional spam email or sham telemarking calls,” said Senator Jon Ossoff, (D) Georgia.

Some Democrats believe future regulation must be consistent with both national security and human rights.

While some GOP leaders believe AI development should continue, they’re also urging companies to be cautious as the technology is deployed.

“We do need to think carefully about how we deploy AI technologies in the absence of a national privacy law which we still do not have a federal online consumer privacy protection,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn, (R) Tennessee. “We also need to be careful how we identify and how we stop unauthorized utilizations of ai whether to surveil or to scam unsuspecting people.’

Imposter scams can also be costly. The Federal Trade Commission reports Americans lost $2.6 billion from those scams last year alone.

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