Fraudsters in abduction calls using tech to target parents

Bad actors need just three seconds of audio to clone someone's voice for a phony call
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 18:14:08-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — It’s a terrifying situation for parents, getting a phone call that one of your kids is in trouble. Now, fraudsters are making that phony kidnapping call even more convincing.

We’ve heard about these calls happening in our area and these crooks are hoping to scare parents bad enough to convince them to pay ransom money over the phone.

For Colorado Springs mom Jenn Suess, It started with a call from an unknown number.

”She seemed like a young girl around my daughter’s age hysterically crying saying 'mom' over and over again. My heart sank and I started to panic. I was like, 'are you ok?,' she said as she described the suspicious call to News5.

A man then spoke on the call demanding payment for her safety before putting the girl back on the phone.

”I couldn’t get her to calm down and so at one point the voice didn’t sound like my daughter so I just said, 'ok, if you’re my daughter tell me your full name,” she asked the person on the call.

The girl couldn’t do it. So, Jenn got off the line and was able to quickly verify the girl on the phone was not her daughter, who was safe at work.

In the year since Jenn got that startling call, experts say the fraudsters have now deployed new technology to make their scheme even more convincing.

”I’m very concerned if we don’t have this conversation this is going to go rampant fast,” said Pikes Peak State College Professor Dr. Dennis Natali.

Dr. Natali says he’s been studying artificial intelligence for years now and shows us how fraudsters are trolling social media for just 3 seconds of audio. That’s all they need to clone the voices of your loved ones for that ransom call.

“Basically you're putting too much information out here on social media,” said Dr. Natalli. “The fraudster is out there monitoring you and thousands of other people. They will get your voice print and run it through an AI emulator that will voice clone you with any text they want… mom, please help right? Then they will call you because they can find you on the internet and they’ll say we’ve got your kid kidnapped, send money now and they set up so many filters electronically where you can’t recover that money anymore… you’re out… and your kid is upstairs.”

Jenn hopes her experience will serve as a warning to be on guard against these calls and now, even more realistic attacks.

”With big data and everything out there they can access information through data leaks and different things where they can personalize it and make it more believable and more likely for you to fall prey to something. I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” she said.

If you get one of these calls, here are two steps safety experts say you should take to protect yourself:

  • Establish a code word or phrase with your family. Make it something only they would know to help you verify it’s really them.
  • Get off the call. These fraudsters want to keep you on the line and don’t want to give you a chance to verify your loved one is actually ok. 


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