Traumatized Arizona Mom Recalls Sick AI Kidnapping Scam in Compelling Congressional Testimony


June 14, 2023 | 8:17

Arizona mom traumatized by sick grifters who used AI to clone teen daughter’s voice in fake kidnapping scheme detailed in gripping testimony before Congress of how heartless grifters threatened to pump stomach of his daughter so full of drugs if he didn’t pay the ransom.

Jennifer DeStefano, a mother of two from Scottsdale, sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and described the heartbreaking call she believed had been made by her 15-year-old daughter Brianna on Jan. 20.

The mum is calling for urgent action from lawmakers to address AI threats after saying authorities have rejected her complaint.

DeStefano told members of the Human Rights and Law Subcommittee that he was picking up his youngest daughter, Aubrey, from dance rehearsal when he received a call from an unfamiliar number.

On the last ring, I chose to answer, as unfamiliar calls can often be a hospital or doctor, she recalled.

Arizona mom Jennifer DeStefano has called on Congress to act on the emerging AI threat.
United States Senate

It was Briana sobbing and crying, saying: Mom. I didn’t think about it at first and casually asked her, what happened? I had the phone on speaker as I pulled into the parking lot to meet her sister, she told the panel.

Brianna was supposed to be with her father training for a ski race.

Mom, I screwed up! said the person who thought she was her daughter through uncontrollable sobs, the traumatized mom said. Mom, these bad men have me. Help me! Help me!

He described how realistic the clone was because it wasn’t just his voice, it was his cries, it was his sobs.

Suddenly, a chilling male voice came on the line and demanded a ransom of $1 million.

A menacing and vulgar man took the call. Listen here. I have your daughter. If you call anyone, call the police, she’ll stuff her stomach so full of drugs. I’ll have my way with her. He will leave her in Mexico. You will never see your daughter again,” an emotional DeStefano recalled, holding back tears.

It started out at $1 million. It shrunk to $50,000 because it wasn’t possible. I asked him for wiring instructions, she said, adding that he refused and asked her to get into a van with a bag over her head with money in hand.

Another mom soon told her she caught up with her husband, who found Brianna resting safely in bed.

She came to me and told me Brianna was safe but I didn’t believe her because I had just talked to my daughter and I was very confident in her voice and I was very confident in her screams she said.

I will never be able to shake that voice and the desperate cries for help from my mind, she added.

It is every parent’s worst nightmare to hear their child pleading in fear and pain, knowing that they have been harmed and are helpless.

DeStefano said he later found AI scams are common.

They can use not just voice, but inflection, emotion. I still didn’t believe it, because I heard that I talked to my daughter. She was my daughter, she said.

When the distressed mum reported the cruel deepfake scam to the police, she said they called it a joke and told her nothing could be done as no abduction had taken place and no money had been sent.

Democratic Senator from Georgia Jon Ossoff said he held the meeting so the Senate could investigate and understand the nature of the threats posed by the abuse of the use of artificial intelligence.

He said lawmakers have identified some important areas where there may be a need for new legislation or lobbying federal law enforcement agencies to better protect families in Georgia and across the country from these threats.

Several experts also spoke at the Senate panel on Tuesday, including Aleksander Madry, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the MIT Center for Deployable Machine Learning.

The latest wave of generative AI is poised to fundamentally transform our collective sense, Madry said, according to Courthouse News.

I think no matter what, the public needs to understand how to interact with AI systems and be careful when they actually interact with AI in the first place. We don’t want to learn this the hard way, he said she.

Alexandra Reeve Givens, CEO of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, said AI models could also be used to spread disinformation during elections.

In past elections, officers have used robocalls and texts to spread misleading information, Givens said. But now, bad actors can easily use AI to scale exponentially and tailor voter suppression or other goals.

DeStefano called for immediate action before the abuse of AI becomes even greater.

My biggest fear is how it will play out in other areas like human trafficking and child abduction, she said. Because luckily I was an adult who had other adults around me. But what if it was a child? Hey, it’s mom. Come and see me here. This is my biggest fear.

Mom warned that if this AI threat is left unchecked, unregulated and unprotected, it will rewrite our understanding and perception of what is and what is not truth.

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