Relay: Troll Like a Pro

Relay: Troll Like a Pro

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 15:16

A month ago, I wrote in this space about having come within three steps of falling for a nasty scam involving our grandson, who was in jail (so he said, or so said his very own frightened voice on the landline) and needed $3,000 (“Please don’t tell my parents”) for bail.

Three steps was the distance between me and Doris Hanna, the bank teller at Chase, as I turned away from the cage with an envelope full of cash to race back home to the phone. “Don’t be in a hurry,” I heard her say. “This does sound like a scam, you know.” I stopped short. In my panic, I’d never thought of that.

Maybe it’s because my antennae are up now for fraudsters, but in just the few weeks since that happened I seem to have been inundated by floods of scam-related reports. I try to look at whatever comes along, print and online, AARP magazine and consumeraffairs.com, hoping to find a simple explanation of how, in the name of all that’s holy, my scammer was able to speak over the phone in the very voice of our 17-year-old grandson. That’s what got me, that’s why my brain turned to pulp, that’s why I never thought to doubt his story, and after I wrote about our narrow escape, that was really all that people wanted to know.

Automated calls are one thing. You can spot them even when they come from your same area code (they usually do; it’s called neighbor-spoofing), and block them, hang up on them, yell at them, not answer them. But the unnerving truth, as I’ve learned, is that these robocalls are only in their infancy. When they grow up, and they must be getting there fast if my recent experience is any criterion, they’ll come from numbers and — shudder — voices that you know. Rapid advances in “voice manipulation technology” have made it possible. Something called Deep Voice, for example, which comes to us from China, can clone anyone’s voice with just 3.7 seconds of audio recording. A year ago, it took 30 minutes. 

The internet makes it a snap to get hold of these things. The basic ones are so cheap and easily available that you don’t have to be a wizard to use them. “Voice Changing for everyone!” the ads trumpet. “Troll like a Pro!”  

Even more frightening, similar apps are enabling tech-savvy crooks to use video to “deepfake” someone saying or doing things that never happened. Imagine receiving an ISIS-type video of your child saying she’s been kidnapped; then it goes dark and you hear her screaming, then comes a ransom demand. If you can manage to think straight, says the F.B.I., stall the caller and try to contact the “victim” — directly if possible, through a school friend if not, or however possible.

All of us who use social media, especially if we’re on Instagram or Facebook twice a day with photos of our kids or vacations, are already prime targets, giving away intimate details — names, dates, etc. — without the bad guys even having to probe for them. 

And speaking of targets, one other thing: Scammers just love those annual online lists of the 100 Richest Zip Codes in America, which include not only big cities like New York and Miami but a number of hamlets and villages on the South Fork. The one you’re living in may well be one of them.

Latest

May 31, 2019 - 22:13
May 31, 2019 - 22:14