Artificial intelligence takes scam to a whole new level – The Jackson Sun

RANDY HUTCHINSON, Better Business Bureau Published 12:54 a.m. CT Jan. 1, 2020

Imagine you wired hundreds of thousands of dollars somewhere based on a call from your boss, whose voice you recognized, only to find out you were talking to a machine and the money is lost. One company executive doesnt have to imagine it happening. He and his company were victims of what some experts say is one of the first cases of voice-mimicking software, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), being used in a scam.

In a common version of the Business Email Compromise scam, an employee in a companys accounting department wires money somewhere based on what appears to be a legitimate email from the CEO, CFO or other high-ranking executive. I wrote a column last year noting that reported losses to the scam had grown from $226 million in 2014 to $676 million in 2017. The FBI says losses doubled in 2018 to $1.8 billion and recommends making a phone call to verify the legitimacy of the request rather than relying on an email.

But now you may not even be able to trust voice instructions. The CEO of a British firm received what he thought was a call from the CEO of his parent company in Germany instructing him to wire $243,000 to the bank account of a supplier in Hungary. The call was actually originated by a crook using AI voice technology to mimic the bosss voice. The crooks moved the money from Hungary to Mexico to other locations.

An executive with the firms insurance company, which ultimately covered the loss, told The Wall Street Journal that the victim recognized the subtle German accent in his bosss voice and moreover that it carried the mans melody. The victim became suspicious when he received a follow-up call from the boss that originated in Austria requesting another payment be made. He didnt make that one, but the damage was already done.

Google says crooks may also synthesize speech to fool voice authentication systems or create forged audio recordings to defame public figures. It launched a challenge to researchers to develop countermeasures against spoofed speech.

Many companies are working on voice-synthesis software and some of it is available for free. The insurer thinks the crooks used commercially available software to steal the $243,000 from its client.

Many scams rely on victims letting their emotions outrun their common sense. An example is the Grandparent Scam, in which an elderly person receives a phone call purportedly from a grandchild in trouble and needing money. Victims have panicked and wired thousands of dollars before ultimately determining that the grandchild was safe and sound at home.

The crooks often invent some reason why the grandchilds voice may not sound right, such as the child having been in an accident or it being a poor connection. How much more successful might that scam be if the voice actually sounds like the grandchild? The executive who wired the $243,000 said he thought the request was strange, but the voice sounded so much like his boss that he felt he had to comply.

The BBB recommends companies install additional verification steps for wiring money, including calling the requestor back on a number known to be authentic.

Randy Hutchinson is the president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South. Reach him at 901-757-8607.

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Artificial intelligence takes scam to a whole new level - The Jackson Sun

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