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We’re Entering a New Era for Robocalls and Deep Fakes Because of AI


President Joe Biden talks on a cellphone during a Rose Garden event at the White House to mark National Small Business Week on May 1, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

  • Over the weekend, some Democrats received calls telling them to skip the New Hampshire primary.
  • The voice on the call was a deep fake recording of President Joe Biden.
  • As AI becomes cheaper and stronger, experts say we’ve entered a dangerous new era for spam calls.

After New Hampshire voters received robocalls using a deep faked voice of President Joe Biden telling them to skip the state’s upcoming primary election, robocall fraud experts warned Business Insider the incident is “just the tip of the iceberg” and expect more to come.

NBC News was the first to report the robocalls, which instructed voters to skip out on Tuesday’s primary.

“We know the value of voting Democratic on our votes count,” the deep-faked recording of Biden said in a call. “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help in electing Democrats up and down the ticket.”

Though it’s difficult to say exactly how many New Hampshire voters received the calls, the CEO and founder of Nomorobo, Aaron Foss, estimated that using the company’s slew of honeypot cellphone numbers, the number is likely “less than 5,000.”

Both Foss and Jonathan Nelson, the director of product management at Hiya, a company that provides spam and fraud call protection, explained that they’ve expected robocalls will play a hand in the 2024 election for quite some time.

“We’ve known this day was going to come and now it’s here,” Foss said, mentioning he’s already seen deep-faked Biden audio in a scam reinventing an age-old one involving a fictitious Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

“I would say no question in my mind, this will be the roughest presidential year that we’ve ever seen as far as robocalls and activity like this,” Nelson added.

New tech means higher stakes than ever

This year in particular, Nelson said, will be bad for robocalls not just because it’s an election year, but also because the scammers are gaining access to more advanced technology. As AI has become cheaper for consumers to access over the past year, it’s only led to the deep fakes getting better and better.

Nowadays, even if you trust the incoming phone number, “you can’t even trust the voice” on the other line, he said.

“This is what always happens,” Foss said. “Scammers jump on anything new that they can use to get a leg up to go in and rip off.”

Though Foss and Nelson both said they’ve expected this robocall revolution to occur, the latter added that the total influx of robocalls Hiya saw over the weekend — both Biden deep fakes and unrelated ones — was “unprecedented.”

The FCC has plenty of work to do to fix this

There are plenty of perfectly legal — though sometimes annoying — non-scam robocalls that take place every day: reminders for appointments, two-factor authentication, and even ones reminding people to go out and vote. Even still, Nelson said the amount of total robocalls he saw over the weekend was new to him.

“This level — I am just being honest, in all the research I’ve done — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a spike like this in just two days,” Nelson said about the torrent of spam calls to New Hampshire-based numbers. “Just one state just getting absolutely bombarded? That is a bit unprecedented.”

When it comes to robocalls, sometimes putting a stop to a scam is as easy as putting certain phone numbers onto the “Do Not Originate” list.

But in this case, it’s much more difficult than that.

In the New Hampshire phone scam, the phone number that voters saw when ringing was “spoofed,” or faked, to appear to be from the leader of a pro-Biden super PAC.

Despite the Federal Communications Commission implementing “STIR/SHAKEN” protocols in 2021 in an attempt to erode “the ability of callers to illegally spoof a caller ID,” Foss noted that fraudsters were still able to circumvent the technology and fake the super PAC leader’s phone number.



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