Florida Attorney General warns of ‘one of scariest scams’

Voice cloning technology allows thieves to impersonate someone who’s trusted

File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla – We’ve all seen that clip in an action thriller when two clones -- one good, one bad -- are both trying to convince a confused “buddy” that they are the long-trusted friend.

The typical tie-breaker? “Tell me something only you would know.”

That might not be a bad question to ask if you’re ever on the phone with a caller who claims to be a relative or friend in need of money for an emergency.

Because they could actually be a foe using an innovative phone scam that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody called “one of the scariest" she’s heard about.

Voice cloning technology lets users make near-perfect reproductions of real people’s voices, even from only a five-second recording of the voice.

Scammers can then use the clone to call victims pretending to be the target’s family member or friend asking for money in an emergency.

“Imagine receiving a call. The voice on the other end of the phone is familiar and is begging for help. Sadly, today, you may not always be able to trust what you hear," Moody said. “We all want to be there for those we love and care about, but with the emergence of new voice cloning technology, Floridians must be more vigilant than ever in watching for imposters and fraud before sharing financial or personal information.”

There are several promising uses for this technology, but the Federal Trade Commission said the technology can also be used by scammers to extort money. The Wall Street Journal reported the technology was used last year to steal more than $200,000 from a U.K.-based energy firm.

When targeting businesses, scammers can use the technology to imitate a vendor who asks for payment.

If you don’t want to ask a security question to test the caller, just hang up and call back at a known phone number to make sure the person you’re speaking with is legitimate.

Follow these general tips to guard against voice cloning scams:

  • Never give out personal information, such as a Social Security number, date of birth, address, or financial information, such as bank account or credit card numbers, without confirming the identity of the requester or why the information is needed.
  • Double-check the validity of statements if a caller, who claims to be a relative or friend, says there is an emergency and money is needed immediately.
  • For business owners, ensure a culture of security among employees where more than one person signs off on vendor payments.
  • If in doubt about the caller, just hang up and call the number on file.

Report scams to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-9NO-SCAM or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.