Savvy criminals using artificial intelligence to their advantage

As technology evolves so are scammers. In this newest scam, bad guys are using artificial intelligence to their advantage.

An Ocala father fell victim to this on Thursday. Jesse got a call from a number in Mexico, when he answered it was his daughter on the phone at first. "Daddy," is what she first said, Jesse responded, and his daughter went on to say she had been kidnapped and in a van with people, she did not know. Jesse told FOX 35 News it sounded just like his daughter, down to the cracks in her voice.

"When her voice cracks, there's a sound to it," he said. "There was no other explanation for it."

The scam typically starts with a phone call either saying your family member is being held captive or you might hear your loved one's voice asking for help. Then the caller will provide you with specific instructions to make sure of a safe return for your family member. Typically, it's in form of a money wire, gift card, or sometimes even through Bitcoin. The scammer will make you stay on the line until the money is wired.

Jesse said at no point did he think he was being scammed. The criminals even knew his daughter was out of town in Tampa and that made it feel very real for him. He did what a lot of parents would do in that situation: he wired the scammer money. Jesse told the man, he only had $600, and the criminal agreed to that, all he had to do was wire transfer the money. But the money wasn't going to come quickly, because Jesse had the instinct to stall.

"I told him I had pins in my legs and if he wanted me to drive I would have to take a cast off, and all this, I'm just trying to buy time."

He did exactly what the FBI and local law enforcement encourage people to do.

"This is a high-tech scam, it will get you. So the basic rule of thumb is, do not pay anything over the phone. Slow down, take your time, and use that most powerful weapon of verification," Lt. Paul Bloom with Marion County Sheriff's Office said. 

Here are some other steps you can take if you find yourself in a similar situation to Jesse:

  • Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, "How do I know my loved one is ok?"
  • If the callers don't let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim.
  • Attempt to call, text, or contact the alleged victim on social media using another phone. Request the victim call back from their cell.
  • Don't challenge or argue, keep your voice low and steady.
  • Request the alleged kidnapper to allow the victim to call you back from their phone.
  • Call the police immediately.

Jesse said he never in his wildest dreams thought he'd fall victim to a scam, and didn't believe when he was getting scammed that it wasn't real.

"Not for one minute until I got off the phone with him two-and-a-half hours later, called my sister-in-law where my daughter was, did I know," he said.

According to the FBI, look out for numbers coming from an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico (787), (939), (856). Some other things to look out for to see if this could be an extortion case. Often times the calls don't come from the alleged kidnapped victim's phone. Callers will go to great lengths to keep you on the phone. They might prevent you from calling or locating the kidnapped victim.

Jesse luckily was able to get his wire transfer stopped in time, so he didn't lose money. If you've found yourself a victim of this, report it to the FBI here

To read more about virtual kidnapping ransom scams, visit the National Institutes of Health Office of Management's webste.