Scientists say criminals can now alter a recording of your voice to potentially scam your loved ones

Updated: Mar. 2, 2020 at 10:55 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Imagine if someone recorded your voice, and altered your words to trick your loved ones.

Scientists say criminals could be taking advantage of new technology to do just that.

19 News teamed up with members of the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad to explain how.

Most people have set voicemail greetings on their phones, and a lot of us have also publicly posted videos where people can hear our voices.

Scientists say it would only take a small snippet from one of those to generate your voice and say things you never actually said.

Michelle Berger says someone called her mother one morning last year, claiming he was Michelle’s son.

“The individual said ‘Hi, Grandma. This is your grandson,’" Berger said.

Her mom says the person sounded like her grandson too.

“He was like ‘I’m in trouble. I was with my friend in his car and we got pulled over, and the cops found drugs in there,’” Berger explained.

Thankfully, Berger’s mom deduced that her grandson would never ask for the things the person wanted.

“It was horrible,” she said. “My mom is a very giving person, very loving, and she would do anything for my children.”

A lot of grandparents are like that, and that’s why the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad is warning everyone about new technology criminals may be using to pose as grandchildren, or anyone you trust to get information and money.

“Technology has advanced to the point where we can clone voices at scale using a very small audio sample,” one expert said.

The technology discussed at a Federal Trade Commission meeting was originally created for good.

It is meant to help people with significant medical problems speak better.

But, law enforcement experts say it poses danger to the general public.

“We need to think up front about consumers that are definitely going to be victimized in ways by criminals,” a law enforcement expert said.

Scientists say little snippets of someone’s voice can be used to create sentences the person didn’t actually say.

They can make a giant population model and then plug in short bits of someone’s audio and use that to customize what is put out.

When you hear the result of that over the phone, it can be convincing.

Sheryl Harris at the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs has been getting reports from grandparents for years, saying a scammer sounded just like their grandchild.

“Originally we just thought, ‘well maybe it just sounds like a young person,’” Harris said.

There’s no way to tell for certain if the scammers have been using the new technology the FTC is warning about, but, Harris says her department wonders if they have been using it or if it could be the next thing.

The possibility is scary, and that’s why Berger agreed to share her warning.

“I want people to know what’s going on,” she said.

The technology is so new that experts say it’s hard to know how to protect yourself from being tricked by it.

They are working on some strategies for that now, and when they have an update, we’ll let you know.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a scam, call 216-443-7035.

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