Everett Police warn of AI voice-cloning phone scam after case reported in Snohomish County

The Grinch who is stealing Christmas this year, may be a deepfake. The Everett Police Department is warning the public about scammers using Artificial Intelligence, known as AI, to steal from people over a phone call.

AI is the latest advancement in technology, and investigators said it’s no surprise thieves are abusing its power.

"Financial institutions are reporting to us that AI is being used by criminals to try to perpetrate scams," said Steve Bernd, spokesperson for FBI Seattle. "Criminals will use everything they can, and they’re up-to-date on the latest technology just like we need to be to try to counter what they’re going to do."

Law enforcement agencies nationwide are reporting the trending phone scam. Ora Hamel, Everett’s public information officer, said at least one case has been reported in Snohomish County. In a public alert, the department stated thieves "are now using AI to clone voices, even those of your friends and family members." Thieves then use the cloned voice to call people on the phone to scam them.

"People are scamming people at the top, bottom, left, right, center, it doesn’t matter," said Bryn Seely, cybersecurity expert. "Anything that will work to get money."

Seely also studies trends of AI voice cloning worldwide.

"A lot of the scammers hire people in countries who aren’t native English speakers. So, using an AI piece of software gives you the ability to sound like a native English speaker," said Seely. 

Everett Police Department said, "common AI software is believed to be able to recreate a person’s voice just minutes after learning it." Seely explained an identical voice clone could be created in less than a day.

"It matches up—ok, this is how fast they talk, this is the cadence, the tempo. And this is the volume they speak at, and this is the frequency that they speak at," said Seely. "So, the computer starts saying, ok, these are the words that I’ve heard, and this is the pattern. And it starts trying to replicate it, and they get really good, pretty quick."

Everett Police Department said awareness is how people can better protect themselves from falling victim to the scam.

Some safety tips include:

  • If you receive a call from a loved one asking for money or making requests that are out of character, be skeptical. Ask the person a question that only they would know the answer to and then call or text the person back to verify it was them who had called.
  • Set social media settings to private, publicly available information can easily be gained by scammers.
  • Block the phone number on your phone.

Seely suggests people who receive these calls hang up and do a quick search online.

"Whatever somebody told you is the problem, put that in Google and type the word ‘scam’ and find out if it’s actually a real thing. There’s a lot of things you can check that will tell you yes or no," said Seely. "If you ever have doubts or have questions, ask somebody. It’s better to look a little bit silly in your own eyes asking somebody for help about something you don’t know rather than getting scammed and having to cover that up."

Anyone who believes they’ve received a voice-cloned phone call, or may have been scammed, should report it to authorities immediately. Officials said it helps to have as many descriptive details as possible, including the phone number the call came from. The Department of Justice said reports can also be filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov