AI-generated voice scams on the rise — 5 tips to protect yourself and your family

AI voice
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A number of reports about people receiving phone calls from their "loved ones" asking for money transfers have surfaced in recent weeks. These voices often call from unknown numbers and often sound very strange, but they can be lifelike enough to trick people. Especially if they're not so tech-savvy. How is this accomplished? Simple, the voices are generated by AI.

This has been something of a concern for me as I used to do a fair amount of streaming in my younger days and, as such, my voice will be relatively easy to find online and copy. This means it would be possible for scammers to generate my voice with relative ease and use it in a scam against anyone who knows my voice. 

The idea of being scammed by an AI voice is scary, especially when you realize that AI could, in theory, recreate the voice of anyone. However, it won't likely be the voice of Joe Biden calling to scam some cash from my parents, it would be my voice. So, I took the time to look into how best to defend myself and my loved ones and have five tips for you on the best means that I've found.

Use Background Noise to Protect Yourself 

A gamer streaming at their desk

(Image credit: Disobey Art/Shutterstock)

The first thing to consider is how to make it harder for the criminals to get a clean cut of your voice. A fair amount of AI recreation software needs a relatively clean track to accurately create the voice. This means that for many people who record with something in the background, it is much harder to accurately recreate the voice of the target. 

As such, I would first recommend adding in a background track to any stream, video or podcast that you produce. Meanwhile, if you happen to be a Twitch streamer then make sure the game's audio can be heard to a certain degree. It won't stop some of the more advanced programs, but it will make it harder to get a really clean audio. 

However, it can still happen so it is worth making your family aware of some basic phone safety tips that they should be following anyway.  

Generally avoid answering calls from unknown numbers 

A man making a phone call on a blue iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of the best pieces of advice, and best practices when it comes to modern phones, is to avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. This isn't just to avoid criminal calls, but it's also good for avoiding cold callers who rely on ‘unknown caller’ to protect where they might be calling from. It is generally a good practice to decline the call when seeing these numbers, or simply wait for the phone to ring out instead. 

The advantage of canceling or waiting is to give the caller the option to leave a message. The last thing unknown numbers want is people calling them back. So they'll avoid leaving a message if they can help it. The caveat is, of course, you shouldn't actually call a number you don't know back — scams that will put you on hold to rack up extortionate phone bills. It should be noted the likes of Google are working to push back on the horde of unknown callers at the moment.

It is possible to set both iPhones and Android devices to "Do Not Disturb," which automatically redirects callers to the voicemail but they will get through if they call back.

However, cloned numbers are a little different 

Apple iPhone 15 review.

(Image credit: Future)

This non-calling back rule changes if the call comes from a cloned number however. For those that aren't aware, there is a rise in people reporting phone calls coming from recognized numbers that happen to be from a completely different person. For instance, I had a call from a number that was my bank's number, but it was in fact a scam caller using a cloned number. 

Another option is to double-check the numbers and where they have come from, as well as knowing the company will often try to call you if they notice strange activity on your account. This is more complicated than AI-generated voices, but if they are using a generated number and push you to send money to an account you don’t know then offer to call them back in a minute. If they act against this, then that is a clear red flag. This leads to my next point: develop a thick skin.

As hard as it is, you will need to be harsh

iPhone 15 vs. Galaxy s24 200 photo faceoff

(Image credit: Future)

Criminals rely on emotion for this scam to work, they want the person on the other side of the call to feel fear and empathy for a voice they recognize. Usually, the voice they use will sound scared, or in pain. The truth is that this will work more often than not because the only defense is to be quite cold and go against our inherent nature when it comes to our loved ones. 

It is imperative to ask the questions that need to be asked, regardless of the response on the other side. If you have to ask them to hang up so you can call them back then you have to do it, regardless of the response. If the person is asking for money or for a bank transfer then they can likely wait for a few minutes to answer a few simple questions or to wait for your call back. It might be painful to ask, but it is important to do so to make sure you’re helping the right person. The final point is to help with this concept when it comes to asking questions. 

 Figure out a passphrase with loved ones 

Back of OnePlus Nord N30 5G against blue background.

(Image credit: OnePlus/Tom's Guide)

All of these points have one thing in common, the idea that loved ones will never call from an unknown number, or will be in a situation where they can wait for you to call back. It has to be said that there are times when this might not be the case. As such, there is one thing you can do to organize a passphrase that only you would know or to make sure loved ones know to ask questions that an AI wouldn’t be able to replicate. 

For instance, having a parent to ask you what you were scared of as a child. Alternatively, have a password or phrase that you all know that can be used to instantly make it clear that you are who you say you are. It is important to make it something that you will actually remember, rather than anything that’s so esoteric it's impossible to remember. We have a guide on how to make a strong password that is worth looking into.

Conclusion and final thoughts

AI crime is ever-evolving, and the means to protect oneself against it has to evolve at the same time. For the most part, the best thing we can do is be aware of the risk and make sure we take all the steps we can to protect ourselves. Interestingly, it appears that AI is also being implemented to help fight against the scams that use AI. However, there is more you can do to protect yourself.

One thing to do is to find a good VPN service that can help protect your web browsing and data, making it harder to find your details to start the scam. We have a full list of the best VPN services currently available that might help you. We also have a full list of the best anti-virus software as well, just in case you need a bit more peace of mind. 

More from Tom's Guide

Express VPN
Private Internet Access
Contract Length
Staff Writer

Josh is a staff writer for Tom's Guide and is based in the UK. He has worked for several publications but now works primarily on mobile phones. Outside of phones, he has a passion for video games, novels, and Warhammer.