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Mom says child’s voice was cloned via AI to fake her kidnapping: ‘It was completely her voice’

By Brooke Villanueva Published Apr 16, 2023 4:19 pm

A mom almost got scammed by people who used artificial intelligence to clone her daughter’s voice and fake her kidnapping for a P55 million ransom. 

According to a report by ABC News, Jennifer DeStefano said she received a phone call from an unknown number and heard her daughter Briana crying when she picked it up. “It’s my daughter’s voice crying and sobbing, saying, ‘Mom.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, what happened?’ She’s like, ‘Mom, these bad men have me. Help me, help me.’” 

A man then asked her to pay a $1 million (P55 million) ransom so she could get her daughter back safely—something she almost fell for because her child was not with her at the time of the call. "It was completely her voice. It was her inflection. It was the way she would have cried. I never doubted for one second it was her. That's the freaky part that really got me to my core,” she told NBC 15, per a PEOPLE report.

But after putting him on loud speaker and having her friend call the police during their conversation, she was able to confirm her 15-year-old was safe and well. Authorities said artificial intelligence was used to reproduce her teenager’s voice.

"I started to wonder, like, if these people were asking to track my mom and pick her up, they could have obviously been putting some information together to try and track me or some of my siblings to actually make this a reality. So it definitely scared me,” Briana said.

Technology expert Sinead Bovell told Good Morning America that obtaining the sound of one’s voice could be an easy feat now due to the widespread presence of social media. In the same ABC News report, experts said voice cloning can take place within seconds with the right software, “and it's getting easier for criminals and bad actors to access and use, a troubling concern since there is currently very little oversight for AI technology.”

Experts noted on ABC News the importance of keeping social media profiles private and being on the lookout for red flags, including phone calls from unknown numbers, to avoid getting scammed the same way via AI.