Mom Who Thought Daughter Was Kidnapped in AI Scam Urges Congress to Address Artificial Intelligence Dangers

Jennifer DeStefano urged lawmakers to address the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, which she said was used to duplicate her 15-year-old daughter's voice to make her believe she had been kidnapped.

An Arizona mother testified before Congress about the terrifying day she received a phone call that her daughter had been kidnapped and would be killed unless ransom was paid in what she later learned was a scam carried out with the use of artificial intelligence.  

Jennifer DeStefano sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to address the potential dangers of AI, which experts say is likely to further impact everyday life. A recent study found that 42% of all companies in the U.S. are exploring how they can use the technology in the future.

DeStefano said the technology was used to duplicate her 15-year-old daughter Brie’s voice, which she heard on the other end of the line crying on Jan. 20.

“Nothing could have prepared me for what she said next,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano told Inside Edition in an interview in April that she heard her daughter say, “Mom, I messed up,” before a man got on the line and claimed he had kidnapped Brie.

“He says, ‘Listen here, I have your daughter. You're not going to call anyone; you are not going to call the cops,’” DeStefano told Inside Edition. “I put the phone on mute and started screaming for help.”

She could hear her daughter saying, “Mom, these bad men have me, help me, help me, help me."

The man threatened to “pump her stomach so full of drugs,” “have my way with her” and “drop her in Mexico,” DeStefano testified, fighting back tears as she recalled what she was told would happen to her daughter.

The man demanded $1 million. He then lowered it to $50,000, which he demanded DeStefano hand over in cash after getting inside a van with a bag over her head.

But Brie had not been kidnapped and was safe.

DeStefano testified that another mother had been able to reach her husband, who found their daughter “resting safely in bed.”

“She came to me and told me that Brianna was safe, but I did not believe her because I had just spoken to my daughter and I was very sure of her voice and I was very sure of her cries,” she told Congress.

DeStefano learned that the ordeal she had just been through was a scam carried out with the use of artificial intelligence. The phony kidnappers duplicated her daughter’s voice using AI. But the scam has had a lasting effect on DeStefano.

“I will never be able to shake that voice and the desperate cries for help out of my mind,” she said. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to hear their child pleading in fear and pain, knowing that they are being harmed and are helpless.”

Artificial intelligence scams are common, DeStefano said.

Berkeley Professor Hanny Farid showed Inside Edition just how simple they are to carry out.

The AI expert took examples of correspondent Alison Hall’s real voice and cloned it to say almost anything.

“In about 30 seconds, it cloned your voice,” Farid says. “I typed in what I wanted you to say, and it handed me an audio file back and that whole thing took me 10 minutes to do."

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