CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

How to spot a fake when AI is used in kidnapping and extortion schemes

May 10, 2023, 6:30 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2023, 12:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Artificial intelligence has been making the rounds in the news for years, but recently, it’s been in the spotlight as a tool being used by scammers. AI technology is getting better and better, making some wonder how to spot the use of AI when faced with a potentially fake situation.

One Arizona mother has shared her story about a frighteningly-real kidnapping scam she was the victim of in January. Using that real-world example, Dave and Dujanovic share their tips on knowing what’s real and what’s fake.

Artificial intelligence makes it more believable

Arizona mom Jennifer DeStefano recounted her experience to CNN in April, saying that she got a call from someone that sounded exactly like her 15-year-old daughter pleading for help. Then, a stranger’s voice demanded a $1 million ransom, threatening to kill her daughter otherwise.

Soon after though, DeStefano told CNN, she finally heard from her daughter — who knew nothing about the threatening phone call. It wasn’t her daughter who made the call.

That incident happened in January, but eventually, the story made its way to news outlets across the country. 

DeStefano now says that the call was a scam, one that used AI technology to extort money.

Although it was fake, it was momentarily a real-life terror for DeStefano.

What’s your biggest fear?

Both parents, @DebbieKSL and @DaveNoriega talk about this disturbing case. Debbie gives us some tips on how to spot and defeat AI fakes.

“What’s your biggest fear when you wake up in the middle of the night?” Debbie asked. “Is your daughter OK? Is your son OK?”

“That’s where the dark mind goes,” Dave said.

“And that’s exactly what these scammers know,” Debbie replied.

“Artificial intelligence takes somebody’s voice, and it can mimic another person. . . I could be speaking, but through artificial intelligence, I can sound like this person’s daughter,” Dave said.

 The first step is to send your child or loved one a text.

“Do you track your child’s location on their cellphone?” Debbie asked. “You should? I think family members should be tracking family members.

“So you can use an app for that. You can use, Life 360. It’s an app that a lot of Utah families use already, and I’ve heard great things about it. Or you can just track them on Find My iPhone,” Debbie said.

Ask the con man or scammer what the hair color or eye color of your “kidnapped” child or loved one is.

“Here’s the final tip, and I think this is a great one. Does your family have a code word?” Debbie asked.

“No,” Dave replied. “A code word?” 

“So pick a code word: Spaghetti. Don’t pick that one because now everybody knows. Pick a code word. Whatever works for your family, and that’s the code word,” Debbie said.

Listen to the full Dave and Dujanovoic segment:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

Related: Combatting loneliness with AI? It may be a slippery slope

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How to spot a fake when AI is used in kidnapping and extortion schemes