Upon receiving a phone call from her weeping daughter and an unknown man demanding $1 million, a mother was left horrified.
When Jennifer DeStefano received a call from an unidentified number, her worst fears came true as she heard her crying child pleading for help from a masked individual, convinced that their life was at risk. Every parent dreads the uncertainty of their child’s whereabouts and yearns for their safety.
While at her daughter’s dance studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, Jennifer DeStefano received a spine-chilling call from an unknown number. Despite the uncertainty, she chose to answer the call due to one of her children being on a ski trip, and the possibility of something terrible happening.
Upon answering the unexpected call, DeStefano was left wondering about the reason behind it, only to hear the sound of one of her daughters crying on the other end. As panic set in, she felt her blood run cold, and her world crumbled. She recalled hearing the words spoken over the phone:
“‘Mom!’ and she’s sobbing. I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘Mom, I messed up,’ and she’s sobbing and crying. Then I hear a man’s voice say, ‘Put your head back. Lie down,’ and I’m like, ‘Wait, what is going on?'”
DeStefano recounted that a mysterious man had taken over the call, making threats against her daughter’s safety and warning her against seeking help from anyone else. The man claimed to have her daughter and demanded a significant amount of money in exchange for her safe return.
As the stranger made ominous threats and demands, DeStefano could hear her daughter’s cries in the background, causing her to become increasingly panicked. Recalling the moment, she said, “And at that moment, I just started shaking. In the background, she’s going, ‘Help me, Mom. Please help me. Help me,’ and bawling.”
What Really Happened?
As the situation unfolded, the other mothers at the dance studio became aware of what was happening and offered their assistance, with one calling 911. Meanwhile, DeStefano attempted to keep the abductor on the line and negotiate her daughter’s release. The man demanded an exorbitant amount of $1 million, causing great distress for DeStefano.
DeStefano informed the abductor that she couldn’t afford to pay the requested amount of $1 million, prompting him to lower the ransom to $50,000. Throughout the conversation, the anxious mother pleaded with the man not to harm her daughter. However, as the conversation continued, it became increasingly evident that something was seriously wrong.
Recent advances in artificial intelligence technology have led to the creation of various useful but potentially hazardous tools, including voice cloning. The abductor who claimed to have DeStefano’s daughter had used such a tool, raising concerns. However, DeStefano was convinced that it was indeed her daughter on the other end of the call.
As per the insights shared by Professor Subbarao Kambhampati, a computer scientist with expertise in AI, the AI systems now require a significantly reduced number of voice samples and time to analyze them, compared to the past few years. In the present day, it takes only about three seconds for an AI system to generate a flawless clone of a voice.
The voice clones produced by AI systems are highly realistic as they replicate the voice and its nuances. FBI agent Dan Mayo, based in Phoenix, emphasized that scammers often acquire voice samples from social media platforms. Mayo recommended being cautious of calls from unknown area codes or international numbers and being suspicious if the person on the other end of the line is reluctant to allow you to speak to your loved one.
Detecting whether the caller is a scammer is crucial, and Dan Mayo proposed some strategies to determine the authenticity of the call. The first approach is to prolong the conversation and ask questions to slow down the process. Another useful tactic is to ask for information that only the purportedly abducted family member would be aware of.
What was the outcome of Jennifer DeStefano’s frightening situation with her daughter?
As the scammer demanded $50,000, DeStefano kept him engaged on the phone, while the other moms contacted the authorities and reached out to anyone who could provide assistance. Despite being unable to hang up and kept the scammer talking, another mom offered to call DeStefano’s husband.
The group of moms contacted DeStefano’s husband to inform him about the alleged abduction, but he surprised them with the news that it was impossible for their daughter to be abducted as she was upstairs in her room at that very moment. DeStefano recounted the situation, saying:
“She was upstairs in her room going, ‘What? What’s going on?’ Then I get angry, obviously, with these guys. This is not something you play around with.”
After hanging up the phone, DeStefano was relieved but still shaken from the ordeal. She took a moment to compose herself, but the stress caught up to her, and she burst into tears. This type of scam is not uncommon, and DeStefano is not the first person to be targeted in this way.
Mayo cautioned that such scams are becoming more prevalent and advised people to be cautious about their social media posts. Since not all of the victims choose to report such scams, the precise figures are still unclear, even though they occur regularly. Mayo stated:
“I think a lot of people are kind of decompressing when they realize that it was a fake scam and probably just happy that it didn’t happen to them. However, there are some people who give in to these, and they end up sending the money to these individuals.”