What to know about AI scams and how to help protect your assets

Two women seated at a table talking and holding a mobile phone

Scammers are using artificial intelligence to better target unsuspecting victims. Here’s how to recognize and avoid three common AI scams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a big part of everyday life. Digital personal assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, that can help you organize parts of your daily routines, are two well-known examples.

Fraudsters are also using AI’s popularity and broader availability to their advantage. AI scams allow them to create fake identities (or steal yours), impersonate loved ones to get you to hand over money, or set up phishing attempts to scam unsuspecting individuals out of money.

The good news: You can help protect yourself by following some straightforward practices. Here, we’ll explore some typical AI scams and share tips to help you identify and avoid them.

What are some common AI scams?

Financial fraud is not new, but AI scams can make it harder to spot. Using AI, fraudsters can clone voices of your loved ones to fake a family emergency, quickly create fake identities to pose as legitimate companies, or steal data from a variety of sources to masquerade as people who don’t actually exist. We explore three of the most common scams and share ways to deal with them.

Family emergency scams

The scenario: The phone rings in the middle of the night, waking you from a deep sleep. You answer and hear your child, grandchild, or another loved one tell you they’ve been in an accident (or been arrested) and they need money right now. They may even beg you not to tell their parents or other family members because they’re embarrassed or ashamed. You send the money using the information they provide … and you find out later that you’ve been duped.

Voice impersonation is becoming easier and more effective with AI: According to online security firm McAfee, scammers using AI only need 3 to 4 seconds of a voice recording — shorter than the average video posted to social media — to clone a voice.1

How to help protect yourself: To avoid falling for an AI phone scam, verify the caller’s identity. Ask the caller a question that only the real person would know the answer to. Hang up and call the real person back on their known phone number. Consider creating a safety phrase to confirm family members’ identities in an emergency.

Financial institution scams

The scenario: You get a call that comes from your bank, telling you that your account has been compromised or asking for your PIN. You may be instructed to transfer your money into a new account (provided by the caller) to keep it safe — but really, you’ll be putting your money right into the fraudster’s pocket. Sometimes the scammer will contact you by email, asking you to click a link to confirm your account. The email looks like it’s from your bank, but the link directs you to a fake site to steal your personal information.

These attacks are known as phishing — attempts to steal valuable personal information, such as bank account information or passwords, by impersonating a legitimate institution such as a bank or credit card company.

How to help protect yourself: If you think there might be a problem with your account, call the phone number on the back of your debit or credit card, or go to the bank’s official site to contact them. Don’t use the contact information provided by the message you received. Your bank will not contact you by phone to request a money transfer. Be wary of any requests to send cryptocurrency, gold, or other unusual currency like gift cards — that’s often the sign of many scams. Do not click on the link within the email. Instead go to the bank’s site or call the bank to verify if the bank actually initiated the contact.

Charity scams

The scenario: Online scammers will seize any opportunity to tug on your heartstrings to trick you into sending money to support a seemingly good cause. These scams are especially rampant after natural disasters or other tragedies — AI tools are used to create fake images of first responders or the disaster scene to solicit donations. These schemes have gained traction on social media, where users can be directed to donate in just a few clicks using credit cards or cryptocurrency.

How to help protect yourself: Don’t be in a rush to donate. Search online for the charity you want to support to make sure it is reputable. Donate to charities you know and trust that have a proven track record. If someone calls asking for donations, ask how the money will be spent or say that you want to research their organization online first. If they can’t tell you how your money will be used or they pressure you to donate in the moment, rethink your donation.

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1. “Beware the Artificial Impostor,” A McAfee Cybersecurity Artificial Intelligence Report, May 2023