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Mother Receives Call From Kidnapped Daughter but It Turns Out to be an AI-Backed Deep Voice Scam

This incident not only exposed the vulnerabilities in our digital age but also raised concerns about the potential misuse of AI technology by criminals
Cover Image Source: YouTube/Inside Edition
Cover Image Source: YouTube/Inside Edition

The scary possibilities unleashed by AI

AI is being hailed as a game changer in every sector from publishing to designing and technical fields ever since ChatGPT took the world by storm. But in a chilling incident that underscores the dark side of artificial intelligence (AI), an Arizona mother, Jennifer DeStefano, testified before the US Senate that she fell victim to an AI-driven kidnapping scam that triggered her deepest fears as a parent. This incident not only exposed the vulnerabilities in our digital infrastructure but also raised concerns about the potential misuse of AI by criminals.

The ordeal began when DeStefano received a distressing call that appeared to be from her 15-year-old daughter, Briana. The voice on the other end sounded remarkably like her daughter's, and the caller claimed to be in the clutches of kidnappers. Panic and fear gripped DeStefano as she heard her daughter pleading for help, a situation made even more terrifying by the threat of violence against Briana.

Spinning a web of deceit

But the truth is that criminals on the other side had employed a calculated blend of emotional manipulation and deception using deep voice tech. They threatened to harm Briana if DeStefano sought help or involved law enforcement. The criminals demonstrated a chilling awareness of AI's capabilities, indicating a deep understanding of how to use technology to their advantage.


As DeStefano negotiated with the fake kidnappers, the demand for ransom emerged, and a sense of urgency intensified. The criminals set an initial ransom at an exorbitant $1 million, later lowering it to $50,000. DeStefano, however, found herself in a dilemma, unable to comply with such demands. The criminals even threatened her life if she failed to meet their demands, making the situation more horrifying.

Digital literacy saves the day

The incident took a turn when another parent informed DeStefano about the possibility of an AI scam, prompting her to verify the safety of her daughter who was with her husband. Thankfully, her daughter was safe and sound, and the call turned out to be a malicious ploy where AI was used to imitate her. The revelation shattered the illusion created by the criminals, leaving DeStefano emotionally distraught but physically unharmed.

Pexels | Anna Tarazevich
Pexels | Anna Tarazevich

Beware of the mockingbird

What makes this incident particularly alarming is the ease with which AI technology was exploited to mimic a person's voice convincingly. A survey by McAfee revealed that 70% of people lack confidence in distinguishing between a cloned voice and a real one, highlighting the potential for widespread deception. The report further emphasized that a mere three seconds of audio is sufficient to replicate a person's voice accurately.

DeStefano's harrowing experience underscores the urgency for lawmakers to address the rising threat of AI-enabled scams. Without adequate regulation and control, the potential for such incidents to inflict psychological trauma and financial harm on unsuspecting victims remains high, even if they don't lose money. The incident serves as a stark warning about the need for comprehensive legislation and technological safeguards to protect individuals from the malicious use of AI.