'Parent's Worst Nightmare': Scammers Use A.I. to Threaten AZ Mom, Demand $1M Ransom
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An Arizona mom is calling for action from lawmakers after scammers used Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology to demand a one million dollar ransom in exchange for her daughter's life.
Jennifer DeStefano testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and described the horrific call she believed was made by her 15-year-old daughter Brianna from an unknown number.
"At the final ring, I chose to answer it, as unknown calls can often be a hospital or a doctor," DeStefano recalled.
"It was Brianna sobbing and crying, saying, 'Mom.' At first, I thought nothing of it and casually asked her, 'What happened?' I had the phone on speaker walking into the parking lot to meet her sister," she told the panel.
DeStefano was picking up Briana's younger sister, Aubrey, from dance rehearsal while the 15-year-old was supposed to be with her dad training for a ski race.
"'Mom, I messed up!'" said the person DeStefano thought to be her daughter.
The mom of two recognized her daughter's sobs and cries. Then she heard, "'Mom, these bad men have me. Help me! Help me!'"
"It wasn't just her voice, it was her cries, it was her sobs," DeStefano emotionally told the committee.
Suddenly, a male voice got on the phone line and demanded a $1 million ransom.
"A threatening and vulgar man took the call over. 'Listen here. I have your daughter. You call anybody, you call the police, I'm gonna pump her stomach so full of drugs. I'm gonna have my way with her. I'm gonna drop her in Mexico. You'll never see your daughter again,'" DeStefano recalled, fighting back tears.
She told the subcommittee on human rights and the law that the ransom was reduced to $50,000 and she asked for instructions to wire the money. The male over the phone refused to obtain the cash through wire but demanded she meet him in a van with cash in hand.
At that point, another mom told DeStefano that she was able to reach Briana's dad and that she was "resting safely in bed."
"She came to me and told me that Brianna was safe but I did not believe her because I had just spoken to my daughter and I was very sure of her voice and I was very sure of her cries," she said.
DeStefano finally got in touch with her daughter and later found out that artificial intelligence scams are common.
She told one Scottsdale, AZ news outlet the conversation with the A.I. was so convincing.
"It was her crying. It was her sobbing. It was her inflection. We had multiple back-and-forths. It wasn't just one statement. It was a conversation," she said.
DeStefano reported the incident to her local police but was told it was most likely a prank call and they would not investigate because no one was kidnapped and no money was exchanged.
"I will never be able to shake that voice and the desperate cries for help out of my mind," she told the committee.
Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) told his committee members the U.S. Senate needs to "investigate and understand the nature of the threats from the abuse of the use of artificial intelligence."
He recognized the need for legislation to protect families from these types of threats.
"It's every parent's worst nightmare to hear their child pleading in fear and pain, knowing that they are being harmed and are helpless," DeStefano said.
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