This is the moment a mum told US senators how scammers used an AI voice clone of her daughter to stage a fake kidnapping.
Jennifer DeStefano spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on Tuesday, describing the ‘fear’ she felt creep across her body as she heard her 15-year-old sobbing on the other end of the line.
It was ‘a typical Friday afternoon’ when she got an unknown call as she climbed out of her car in Arizona while running errands.
The voice she heard was that of Brianna, saying ‘Mum, I messed up’, as more crying followed.
‘Not thinking twice, I asked her, “ok what happened”,’ Jennifer recalled the incident on January 20.
‘Suddenly a man’s voice barked at her to “lay down and put your head back”. At that moment I started to panic. My concern escalated and I demanded to know what was going on.’
But nothing could have prepared the mum-of-four for her daughter’s response, ‘Mum these bad men have me, help me, help me’.
Jennifer continued: ‘She begged and pleaded as the phone was taken from her.
‘A threatening and vulgar man took over the call “Listen I have your daughter, you tell anyone, you call the cops, I am going to pump her stomach so full of drugs, I am going to have my way with her, drop her in Mexico and you will never see her again” all the while Briana was in the background desperately pleading “mum help me”.’
Jennifer described the next few minutes as a ‘parent’s worst nightmare’.
She was standing outside the dance studio where her younger daughter Aubrey had a rehearsal at the time.
Other parents surrounded her, also hearing the man on the phone, while the 13-year-old stood next to her mum ‘paralysed with fear’.
As Jennifer rushed inside the studio, the caller told her that Brianna’s kidnapping was part of a $1 million ransom.
‘You better have all the cash, or both you and your daughter are dead,’ the voice said.
The ransom fee was eventually lowered to $50,000 in cash when the parent told them she could not get that kind of money.
At the time, Brianna was supposed to be at a training for a ski race and not at home, so the ruse was even more believable.
Jennifer testified: ‘At this moment, a mum who called 911 came inside and shared with me that 911 was familiar with an AI scam where they can replicate your loved one’s voice.
‘I did not believe this was a scam. It was not just Brie’s voice, it was her cries, it was her sobs that were unique to her. It wasn’t possible to fake that I protested.
‘She told me that AI can also replicate inflection and emotion. This gave me a little hope but still was not enough.’
As the call continued, another mum had managed to make contact with Jennifer’s husband, who then called Brianna, confirming she was safe.
The racket was finally exposed, but it was so convincing that the mum spent ages on the phone with her daughter.
It is believed that the scammers had used AI to emulate the teenager’s voice from interviews at school and stage the fake kidnapping.
Families across the US have been targeted in similar ways with altered audio, but some have fallen victim, losing thousands of dollars.
Overall, Americans lost $2.6 billion last year in imposter scams, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission.
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