Federal Trade Commission Offers Prize for Techniques to Control Voice Cloning
WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission announced a $25,000 prize Thursday to anyone who can suggest an effective means of protecting consumers from the artificial intelligence-enabled voice cloning that plays a key role in many scams.
The “Voice Cloning Challenge” is the latest of many government efforts to stop the sophisticated fraud schemes that often elude law enforcement and regulation.
Most of the efforts have failed, as demonstrated by a congressional estimate of $9 billion in losses last year to fraud through online or phone scams often assisted by artificial intelligence. This year is on track to be even worse.
Voice cloning is a kind of artificial intelligence used to create convincing speech that sounds like specific people saying things they did not say. It originally was developed to produce audiobooks or to help people who have lost their voices speak again.
More commonly, it is now employed to convince unsuspecting victims during phone conversations using imposters’ voices to transfer money to pay bills or to help family members in emergencies.
“We will use every tool to prevent harm to the public stemming from abuses of voice cloning technology,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We want to address harms before they hit the marketplace, and enforce the law when they do.”
The FTC’s goal might be easier said than done, according to lawmakers and witnesses at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Thursday.
One of them was Gary Schildhorn, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attorney who received a phone call in 2020 from a man claiming to be a police officer informing him that his son was in jail after a car wreck and failing a breathalyzer test.
The police officer’s call was followed by a second call asking for money.
“My phone rang, it was my son, he was crying,” Schildhorn told the Senate panel.
Or so he thought. Actually, it was a voice clone programmed to imitate his son’s voice. He said his bond was set at $90,000 and that he needed to put down $9,000 of the total before he could get out of jail.
Schildhorn was about to pay the $9,000 by a transfer to a fake defense attorney when he received a Facebook message from his real son, who had been notified by a family member about the purported car wreck.
Schildhorn was angry after receiving notice from his son about the scam and notified police.
They were unable to track down the fraudsters. They also informed Schildhorn that the law left him with no remedy because he had not yet made the money transfer.
“Law enforcement had no solution,” Schildhorn said.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, referred to several pending bills to crack down on fraud perpetrated with artificial intelligence when he said, “It’s clear that federal action is needed.”
The bills seek better ways to detect cloned voices and to punish unauthorized use of them.
Casey and others said senior citizens often are most vulnerable to the fraud as part of what cybersecurity experts call “grandparent scams.”
Tom Romanoff, director of the technology project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, urged swift regulatory action by Congress amid “exponential growth” in cybercrimes using artificial intelligence.
With artificial intelligence available publicly, “Most people could not tell the difference between computer-generated content and human-generated content,” Romanoff said.
“The role of Congress cannot be understated,” he said.