Fooled by your own kid? Chilling rise of AI voice cloning scams – The Times of India

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Imagine your child crying on the phone and asking for help? Sarita Khanna*, the middle-aged wife of a businessman from MP’s Khargone, did what any mother would do when she got a call from an unknown number that her 19-year-old daughter Surbhi studying in an Indore college had been kidnapped.
The caller said in a stern voice, “Your daughter is with us.Do as you are told, otherwise you won’t see her again.” She could hear a girl sobbing in the background. As soon as he finished speaking, Surbhi’s cries of ‘mumma’ became clear and the phone seemed to be pulled away from her. The man demanded a ransom of Rs 3 lakh. A distraught Sarita tried calling her daughter’s number but it was switched off. She called her husband but before he could rush back home, she had already transferred Rs 50,000 online. An hour later, the father got a call from Surbhi who said she was in the hostel sleeping & had switched off her phone. It’s a new scam that uses AI-powered voice cloning software.
Later, Sarita told Indore police: “It was Surbhi’s voice. I could hear her crying and sobbing. I thought they would do something to her.”
There is a new scam in town even more sophisticated than fake FedEx packages, job offers or money for liking videos. It uses artificial intelligence-powered voice cloning software to recreate the voice of your loved one.
But how do the scamsters get their hands on voice samples? A study by software security company McAfee found that just three seconds of audio is enough to create an 85% match to the original voice. Their researchers surveyed seven countries, including India, and found that more than half (53%) of all adults share their voice at least once a week on social media, and about 77% of AI voice scam victims lost money.
Such cases are only set to grow as voice cloning software is freely available to produce deepfake audio and video, according to former IPS officer and cybercrime expert Triveni Singh.
“These scammers are neither coders nor computer scientists. Anyone can operate these AI tools, look up numbers and record voices from social media and reproduce them as calls. But these are synthetic imitations, which can be identified as fake if the listener pays close attention,” says Singh. He cites the most recent case of Kaveri Ahuja, who recounted her experience of a voice scammer who used the voice clip of her daughter crying to claim she had been abducted. However, Ahuja caught on to the scam and posted about it on X. “However, most people get so scared that they panic and that is how they are trapped,” adds Singh.
In Dec last year, a Lucknow-based govt official whose son studies engineering in Bengaluru got a call from an unknown number, saying his son had been caught with drugs. “They claimed he was in the police station and demanded Rs 1 lakh to let him go. I heard him saying ‘papa mujhe bacha lo’ which sounded like my son’s voice. Without giving it a second thought, I transferred the money,” says the official.


Cybercrime investigator Ritesh Bhatia says another ploy is to call from a foreign phone number. “They make the person believe that you are a friend who is unable to make a financial transaction, or your child or elderly parent is in distress.”
Law enforcement officials have found enough examples of video cloning as well.
In July last year, retired Coal India official PS Radhakrishnan received a message from an unknown number. His old friend of 40 years, Venu Kumar, had reached out after almost a year of no contact to seek his help for an urgent financial transaction. Kumar said he was at Dubai airport and trying to deposit money for his sister-in-law’s surgery at a Mumbai hospital but couldn’t because of some issue with international transfers.
“He sounded exactly like my friend. He even came on a video call and looked exactly like my friend, and we chatted for a long time before I agreed,” remembers Radhakrishnan, who deposited Rs 40,000 to an account that morning. “But then he asked for Rs 30,000 more for hospital fees, and that’s when I knew something was seriously wrong,” says Radhakrishnan.
The con on Ghaziabad senior citizen Arvind Sharma went a step further with the criminals using a retired police officer’s video and audio cloning to dupe him. According to daughter Monica, her father answered a video call on WhatsApp to find a nude person at the other end and ended it quickly. But, soon after, he received blackmail calls from a person and an embarrassed Sharma ended up shelling out Rs 74,000. Since he didn’t have enough savings, he even took a loan to pay the amount.
Cyber lawyer Prashant Mali says that the IT Act has provision for imprisonment of up to three years and a fine for impersonation and identity theft and forging of electronic record (sound) but tracking these criminals is hard. Also, many people are too embarrassed to report the crime.
Disclaimer: Names of the victims changed on request
(With inputs from Karishma Kotwal in Indore)

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