FBI warns of AI kidnapping scam in St Louis: How a simple ‘safe’ word can foil criminals

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Andy Banker and Liz Dowell

2 hours ago

ST LOUIS — We’ve got a new warning about a kidnapping scam in St. Louis. Suspects are once again using voices generated by artificial intelligence (AI) to steal thousands of dollars from their terrified victims. It’s just happened again.

“A simple solution is to have a ‘safe’ word as a family,” said Jay Greenberg, FBI-St. LOUIS Special Agent in Charge.

He said that simple family ‘safe’ could defeat the most sophisticated AI scams. The same may have happened in the recent St. Louis case.

Authorities give this account:

A medical professor gets a call at work that his 16-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. During the call, the mother could hear her daughter screaming for help. The accused said that he kidnapped the girl after she was involved in a car accident.

He ordered the mother to go to Pete’s Shur Save Market in U-City to wire the $3,000 for her daughter’s release, demanding that the mother wait until she arrived at the store and wired the money. Threatens to harm K’s daughter.

It was an ordeal of about two hours. The daughter was actually safe at home the entire time. There was no accident. He never screamed for help.

Imagine if the family had a ‘safe’ word?

“Mom, grandma, or grandpa, anyone in this situation can easily say to the person on the other end of the phone who is either pretending to be the victim or pretending to catch the victim, ‘ OK, I’m ready to move on. Please don’t hurt my family member but I need to know what the safe word is,” Greenberg said. “‘My daughter, my son, my grandmother, that Everyone knows the safe word. What is our family word?’ They will not be able to generate it through artificial intelligence.

The National Institutes of Health recently issued a warning after several workers were targeted using the same techniques. Here is an FBI link to common techniques used by criminals and tips for protecting yourself.

The FBI has a phrase to help you protect against this AI crime trend:

“Always doubt… check it out,” Greenberg said. “We always want to encourage people to try to find a piece of affirmation that will help you get in touch with your emotions and make good decisions in a crisis,” Greenberg said.

“It’s a lot of emotion to master and we recognize that. No one who is a victim of this scam should feel bad about it. They need to come forward and report it so we can see. To be able to say, ‘Is this trend growing? Do we need to put more resources into it? Do we need to have more discussion about it in the community?'”

The statistics certainly bear this out: From 2018 to 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center had more than 3.25 million crime complaints, with a total loss of more than $27.5 billion.

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