BBB warns consumers to watch and listen for voicemail scams

Posted at 8:12 AM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-25 09:10:00-05

BOISE, Idaho — We all know to watch for phony emails, but the Better Business Bureau says scammers are now taking another route: phony voicemails.

The Federal Trade Commission recently held a workshop on voice cloning technologies, saying people have been mimicking voices for years. However in the last few years, the technology has advanced to the point where scammers can clone voices at scale using a very small audio sample. Deepfakes, both audio and visual, let criminals communicate anonymously, making it much easier to pull off scams.

How does the scam work? Say you get a voicemail from your boss. They might instruct you to wire thousands of dollars to a vendor for a rush project. The request is out of the blue, but it’s the boss’s orders, so you make the transfer. A few hours later, you see your boss and confirm that you sent the payment. There’s one big problem though--your manager has no idea what you are talking about. It turns out that the message was a fake, using voice cloning technology.

Businesses may be the first places to see this con, but it likely won’t stop there. The technology could also be used for imposter scams like the emergency scam, which preys on people’s willingness to send money to a friend or relative in need. With the U.S. now in the midst of the 2020 election season, scammers could use the technology to mimic candidates’ voices and drum up “donations.”

How can you avoid being scammed?

  • Ask probing questions: Trust your gut, if the caller is requesting something out of the norm, test them on information that person would know.
  • Hang up: The best way to determine who you are talking to is to hang up and call the person back directly with the correct contact information.
  • Train staff: Create a secure culture at your office by training employees on scams. Set policies in place that would create a secure process for payment and change requests.

For more resources on how to keep your identity safe, click here.