Senior Scams: Beware of artificial intelligence
By Jeremy Rodriguez
Imagine receiving a call from your grandson, who you have not heard from in six months. You instantly recognize his familiar voice, and you are thrilled that he is calling. But then he delivers some bad news. He is in jail and needs money to pay his bail. You are willing to help. He gives you information for the police station, and you wire the funds over immediately.
Later, you learn that the person you talked to on the phone was not your grandson, despite sounding just like him. The call was a scam, and money that you wired went to an unknown recipient and cannot be recovered.
This scenario describes a new type of scam that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to defraud victims.
What is AI?
AI technology uses computers to simulate human thinking to accomplish basic tasks. This can include things like voice recognition software, such as a voice assistant on smartphones. Even when you shop online, AI is working behind the scenes to recommend products you may want to buy. If you purchased silverware on Amazon, the website’s algorithm (software or programming) may automatically send you emails encouraging you to purchase other utensils or similar items.
While the concept of AI is not inherently fraudulent, scammers can use this technology for devious purposes. This can range from voice cloning, such as the example of the fake call from a grandkid; falsified videos; and numerous other schemes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning earlier this year about scammers using AI technology in “family emergency schemes.” According to an FTC report, “Artificial intelligence is no longer a far-fetched idea out of a sci-fi movie. We’re living with it, here and now.”
Here are some examples of AI scams, adapted from a recent AARP article titled “Chatbots and Voice-Cloning Fuel Rise in AI-Powered Scams.”
According to FTC data, imposter scams are the second-highest category of fraud with 2.5 million incidents, representing $9 billion in reported losses last year. All a scammer needs is a short audio clip of your family member’s voice, which they can get from videos posted on social media, and a voice-cloning program to make their own voice sound like your family member’s. Scammers can also use this for identity theft by accessing your voice assistant to acquire credit card information and other private details.
Text message and email scams
AI can be used to mimic the writing styles of marketing emails or celebrities to try to con older adults into spending money. Sometimes, the messages can pretend to be your employer texting from a private number.
Criminals can download a photo of someone you know from social media, then use AI to falsify their own appearance on a video call, so it looks like you are speaking with someone you know.
Customer service chatbots
Scammers can use automated, online chat functions to pose as customer service representatives from well-known retailers to conduct phishing schemes to steal personal information, such as a credit card, bank account or your Social Security number, user IDs, and passwords.
These automated phone calls may claim they need to collect personal financial information to lower credit card interest rates. Scammers will often frame it as a limited time offer to try to make you act quickly. Once they get hold of the information they need, they will then use it to apply for unauthorized credit cards in your name.
Avoiding AI scams
It is important to remain vigilant against technology-based scam attempts. AARP offers the following tips to help you avoid AI scams:
Do not trust your caller ID
If you receive an unsolicited call from what appears to be your bank or credit card company, err on the side of caution. Tell the caller you will have to call them back. Then hang up, look up the number from your statement and call your bank or credit card company back to verify if the call was legitimate. Similarly, if the caller pretends to be a family member in distress, politely end the call, find their number and call that person back. The call you received may not have been your actual family member. When in doubt, call another family member to be sure. You may want to also establish a family code word to help verify calls in emergency situations.
Pause before you click
Take an extra look before clicking on any links online to ensure you do not accidentally click on anything suspicious. You may see ads for an offer that seems too good to be true. It is not worth the risk. When in doubt, do not click.
Create a code word
Share your code word only with your closest family and friends. If you receive a suspicious-sounding call from one of those people, ask for the code word. If the caller does not know it, double check with someone else.
Guard your information
Never share your Social Security number, credit card/banking information or other personal details with someone you only know from email or text messages.
If you spot a scam, report it to the police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1- 877-382-4357 or ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
To read the complete AARP article, go to aarp.org/money/scams-fraud. For more information and assistance contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11.
Jeremy Rodriguez is a freelance journalist, blogger, editor and podcaster.