Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly and will have dramatic effects on society. While AI has potential benefits in many areas including healthcare and education, there are also potential drawbacks. Haywood Talcove, chief executive of a major cybersecurity organization, cautions seniors that new AI capabilities are being used for romance scams, ransom efforts and IRS or government collection scams.
Talcove stated, "You have all of these people building this technology for good and they are working really, really hard. And you have another group working equally hard at applying their craft on the bad side." The bad actors use AI to enhance their scams and victimize seniors. Many scams have taken millions of dollars from seniors who did not protect themselves from romance scams, requests for ransom or false claims that they owe payments to the IRS.
- Romance Scams — The new AI capabilities enable a scammer to create a visual image that appears to be real. The scammer can also craft a voice designed to appeal to a specific victim. The lifelike image and voice will encourage the victim to go on video dates. After the visual image and false voice have built a relationship with the victim, there will be the inevitable request for money.
- Ransom Attacks — A fraudster can use a short recording to build a realistic duplicate of that voice. Many individuals have short videos with their voice on various social media outlets. The scammer may use the voice of a child, grandchild or other family member and create a conversation using their voice. Most individuals cannot tell that this is not their actual relative. The voice will claim that the relative is in serious trouble and must receive immediate funds to be rescued.
- IRS Collection Letters — While many scammers have been using both letters and phone calls to impersonate the IRS and fraudulently collect funds, the AI capabilities greatly enhance the power of the letters. Many current AI systems can generate very realistic letters. While previous scammer letters often had typographical or grammatical errors that allowed them to be easily identified, the AI-enhanced letters look very realistic. Talcove stated, "It is very, very hard to tell. It is going to take a while for people to become aware of something like ChatGPT." Talcove warns seniors not to send money to anyone who you have not met in person.
It is important to understand the best ways to protect yourself. Lori Mars, Deputy Director of the National Center on Elder Abuse notes, "Older people are definitely targeted. The overall concept is that everyone is vulnerable. But with age can come mild cognitive impairment that is associated with poor financial decision making, as well as social isolation and loneliness."
While most financial abuse of elders is not reported, AARP estimates that individuals over age 60 lose more than $28 billion per year through elder exploitation. Approximately three-fourths of that loss is caused by an individual personally known to the senior but the other types of scams may involve up to $8 billion per year.
There are several practical tips for protecting yourself. If you receive a ransom phone call from someone claiming to be a relative, ask for specific identifying marks on their person or a special family password. Note that the IRS or other government agencies do not request payments through phone calls or email.
An excellent protection method is for a senior to have a trusted family member who will co-manage his or her accounts. If the senior is contacted by an individual requesting funds, he or she may then discuss the request with the family member. This is an excellent way to protect a senior person.
Finally, seniors are urged to have their Social Security or government checks directly deposited in bank accounts. They should not give any personal information over the phone to an unknown person. If a request for funds is made, ask the individual to send you a written request.