Expert: Scams more convincing with artificial intelligence

Aug 4, 2023, 5:04 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

SANPETE COUNTY, Utah — It came in as a call from a loved one who was in desperate need of help.

In the moment, David Allan said it even sounded like his grandson, who claimed he had been in a car crash that injured a pregnant woman.

A supposed public defender then got on the line and informed Allan that his grandson was in the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork and he needed $5,000 to help bail him out of there.

“Because of my deep love for him, my logic turned off,” admitted Allan, a life-long physicist who helped to develop atomic clocks in the U.S. with his research that became known as the Allan Variance.

Allan told KSL TV he soon found himself doing whatever he could to help his grandson, including driving more than an hour-and-a-half from home to Park City and then back to Provo to find the right ATM to assist him.

“It wasn’t until 7:00 that night that I finally realized it was a scam,” Allan said. “There were several signs over the course of the day that I should have recognized from just pure logic that something was wrong.”

Calls like those can be convincing enough, but cybersecurity experts say the scammers have recently started kicking up the realism a notch through artificial intelligence.

“They’re copying and cloning people’s voices,” said Richard Hickman, owner of Secured Success. “So you look at your phone, you see, ‘oh, my daughter’s calling,’ and then there’s this scary guy on the end that says that ‘I just kidnapped your daughter’ and you’re like, ‘well how do I really know, put her on the phone.’ So then they play a voice of your daughter’s voice that says something like, ‘please do what they’re saying, I’m scared.’”

Hickman said the ploy often proves convincing, tricking victims into doing whatever the scammers instruct.

“In that type of scenario, it’s probably good enough to fool most people,” Hickman said.

Scammers, he said, are generally able to clone voices through several online programs readily available for a small monthly subscription.

“You can go to someone’s social media, pull down all the videos of them talking, and then feed your model to be able to have it trained to talk like that person,” Hickman said.

Hickman recently sat down with KSL TV reporter Andrew Adams to show how it worked, using several samples of Adams’ voice recorded for his news stories.

While the program did not provide an exact match, the voice could be modified to project urgency and it was close enough Adams acknowledged it might fool someone under the right circumstances.

“(I) couldn’t say it wasn’t me,” Adams said during a conversation with Hickman. “If I said, ‘please, do what they say, I’m scared,’ it kind of sounds like it, right?”

Hickman said the voice-generating programs have a practical application for enterprises like audio books and the voice only becomes more accurate the more samples that are uploaded.

“Providing more than 5 minutes of audio in total brings literal improvement,” Hickman said.

Hickman said there are multiple steps families can take to protect themselves and their loved ones, advice he shared directly with Allan recently.

Primarily, he urged families to have a safe word or phrase that is only shared with each other in person and never posted or talked about anywhere else.

“If they don’t use that key phrase with me over the phone, I can’t trust that it’s them,” Hickman said.

Allan said his family was already in the process of coming up with a safe word or password.

Hickman also urged people if they receive a call like Allan did to immediately hang up and directly call the loved one’s known phone number.

Additionally, Hickman said he recommends people set their social media accounts to private to reduce the potential that scammers can find and use voice samples.

Allan said he has generally never been one to be tricked in the moment.

“I get phone calls all the time from people,” Allan explained. “I don’t know who they are? Click. I’m done.”

He doesn’t know whether artificial intelligence was employed in his case, but as someone who has been familiar with the concept of AI since helping to develop optimization programs for clocks, he said he was worried about the potential for misuse in scams like these and that added motivation to share his story.

He said he is much more cautious now and urged others to be the same way.

“My goal is to help others as much as we can,” Allan said.

Allan has been familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence for decades since helping to develop optimization programs for clocks.

“AI is taking over the world.,” he said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Andrew Adams

Sandy crews mow, weed to reduce potential fire hazards around the city

Crews worked to clear potential fire hazards by leveling fields within the city's limits on Wednesday.

7 hours ago

Police arresting the suspect in a double homicide in St. George on June 19, 2024....

Mary Culbertson

Suspected shooter admits to killing both her parents in Washington County home after arrest, police say

After an hourslong search for a suspected shooter, police took the shooter into custody where she confessed to killing her parents.

8 hours ago

Willie Mays was honored by the Salt Lake Bees on Juneteenth after his death Tuesday. (KSL TV)...

Brian Carlson

Salt Lake Bees remember Hall of Famer Willie Mays on Juneteenth

The Salt Lake Bees wore throwback jerseys of an all-African American team from 1906 in honor of player Willie Mays and Juneteenth.

10 hours ago

Protestors gather outside the House chambers during a legislative special session at the Utah State...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Utah lawmakers vote to block federal protections for LGBTQ+ students under Title IX

Utah lawmakers convened in a special session on Juneteenth to declare the state's intent not to follow a federal rule providing anti-discrimination protections to transgender youth.

11 hours ago

Southbound traffic on I-215 being diverted northbound because of a box truck fire....

Michael Houck

I-215 southbound traffic halted after box truck fire

Southbound traffic on I-215 near 4700 South is being diverted northbound because of a box truck that caught fire Wednesday afternoon.

11 hours ago

Balloons at a Juneteenth celebration at Weber State University. (KSL TV)...

Shelby Lofton

‘I think people get scared because it’s talking about slavery’: Weber State students, staff pause to celebrate and honor Juneteenth

Weber State University students and staff gathered on campus to reflect and celebrate Juneteenth.

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Expert: Scams more convincing with artificial intelligence