Jennifer DeStefano doesn’t usually answer out-of-town phone numbers, but her 15-year-old daughter was on a ski trip, so out of an abundance of caution, she did. An instant later, she heard the terrifying sound of her daughter’s sobs.
“I pick up the phone, and I hear my daughter’s voice, and it says, ‘Mom!’ and she’s sobbing,” DeStefano told Scottsdale’s 3TV. “I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘Mom, I messed up,’ and she’s sobbing and crying.”
Before she could ask any questions, a man’s voice came on the phone, and her terror deepened.
“…he’s like, ‘Listen here. I’ve got your daughter. This is how it’s going to go down. You call the police, you call anybody, I’m going to pop her so full of drugs. I’m going to have my way with her, and I’m going to drop her off in Mexico,’” DeStefano recalled. “And at that moment, I just started shaking. In the background, she’s going, ‘Help me, Mom. Please help me. Help me,’ and bawling.”
DeStefano’s fear and panic were real, but her daughter’s voice was not. Her ordeal, in which the man demanded $1 million for her daughter’s safe return, was all an evil scam, perpetrated by criminals who use artificial intelligence to clone people’s voices.
The AI used to scam DeStefano was so good, that she completely believed she was talking to her daughter and that she was in grave danger. “It was never a question of who is this? It was completely her voice. It was her inflection. It was the way she would have cried,” she said. “I never doubted for one second it was her. That’s the freaky part that really got me to my core.”