It may sound like a family member on the phone — but it could be a scammer

When you get a call from a family member in trouble, you would probably do just about anything to help them, including giving them money. But watch out — scammers are taking advantage of this reaction.

Jen Golbeck, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, said this is an old trick using a modern technical twist.

“What we actually see is a kind of old school phone scam, where you would get a call from a loved one saying that they didn’t have any money, or their phone, or a credit card, and they needed you to send some,” she told WTOP.

In the past, scammers would just muffle their voices or cry to try to mask their voices. Now, they can download an artificial intelligence-powered voice-changing app on their phone or computer and actually sound like a loved one.

“If you have access to a recording of somebody’s voice, and it can be a pretty short recording — less than a minute — you can use some free or very cheap apps to generate something that sounds like their voice,” Golbeck said.

And that voice recording can come from online posts on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube.

“These are targeted scams,” she said. “The scammers are coming after you in particular. They can look for who your loved ones are on social media, find a couple little clips, and that’s actually all they need in order to generate the voice.”

Golbeck said the voices aren’t usually perfect. They are more like a computer-generated impression, but it may be enough to catch someone off-guard.

If you think it could be a scam, always try to call back on that loved one’s phone number to verify their claims.

“If they’re asking for payment in cash — or, more likely, gift cards or bitcoin — it’s almost certainly a scam. All of those are untraceable methods of getting the money from you,” said Golbeck.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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