“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using AI in a way that is for the benefit of humanity, not to the detriment of humanity.” Said Tim Cook CEO of Apple Inc. 

There’s a problem with that Tim. Some people are embracing AI for their own benefit. Fraudsters consider AI as an easier, cheaper way to take other people’s money by making scams ever more difficult for consumers to detect. AI is developing the ability to write more authentic looking personalised emails. People are receiving emails, texts and messages that are becoming virtually indistinguishable from a typical family message. What’s possibly more alarming is the ability to recreate or mimic familiar voices for use in scam calls.  

Deep fake videos where faces and bodies can be swapped around and incorporate AI generated voices were originally entertainment and a bit of fun. You may remember the famous Dawn French and Darcy Bussell Swan Lake sketch from the Vicar of Dibley. Imagine the AI remake. This time it would be perfect, beautifully choreographed, flawless.  

Great fun as entertainment, but the issue darkens when you see deliberate manipulation at play. Individuals, especially politicians apparently making outrageously radical policy promises, attacking the opposing parties with baseless claims and misinformation are easy targets. As we know, however, many would be taken in by it. It seems that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is increasingly elusive. 

We want people to be aware of financial scams, and the potential emotional impact they can have, and to have a number of actions they could take to protect themselves and their families. 

Take phishing scams as an example, where emails or texts have been sent supposedly by family or friends, and sometimes from official bodies such as HMRC. Others such as messages from Amazon and Royal Mail were heavily used. You may even have had messages saying parcels have been received and cannot be delivered without payment and can you please click the link, make payment and the parcel will be delivered. As we are so used to having parcels delivered it often never triggers that sixth sense scam warning in our minds.  

Previously, email or text scams were often easy to spot. Grammar was poor, spelling was inconsistent, email addresses were suspicious. You had that gut feeling something wasn’t right. But AI makes it far easier to perfect these messages, to have them so well camouflaged that they look and feel like actually did come from your daughter or friend. We need to improve our defences as detection is going to be more difficult 

In my case we received a message from my daughter with her “new mobile number” asking if we were busy, and could we call her back. The call went straight to voicemail. We then received a message saying their payment apps haven’t loaded up properly and could we  pay an invoice that was due for payment, and they had tried but their phone wasn’t working yet. If the language in the text hadn’t been so familiar I would have deleted it. You never want to think of your daughter panicking to settle a bill, so what do you do? You send the money.  

After that incident, we called a family meeting and put safeguards in place, like safe words, and double authentication, which sounds complex but is really simple. If we get a text we call the person on the number we already have, never the “new” one, and make sure it was them who sent the message. If we can’t speak with them, no money changes hands. 

Here are some things to consider.  

  • Take time to read unexpected emails carefully. Sounds obvious, but if you are anything like me, you develop a scan reading approach, and can easily overlook clues that could give the game away.  
  • Use agreed “safe words” or phrases in family communications. If you get a message purporting to be from a family member without these pre-arranged safe words, reply asking for the safe words, it can immediately flag up a possible scam, and limits the chances of being taken in. 
  • I’ve heard of people when answering suspect calls supposedly from a relative, to ask about how Aunt Mary’s dog got on after the operation, when of course there is no dog, or Aunt Mary for that matter. 
  • These safe words or phrases can also be used in calls to ensure you really are speaking to who you think you are.  
  • Regularly change passwords, make them as complex and random as you can. I actually use bible verses, here’s one I prepared earlier, Exodus chapter 14 verse 14 becomes EX0du5/14#14. As you can imagine there are thousands to choose from which is useful as we have numerous logins with regular requests to change them. 
  • A recent article I read highlighted the Have I Been Pwned website haveibeenpwned.com. It lets you check if your personal data has been compromised by data breaches. The site collects information on public data breaches and stores the details in a searchable database.  
  • It’s always worth checking in with older relatives and friends, as they are often the main target of scams as they tend to be less confident with technology. My 90-year-old mother-in-law was recently targeted by a scam caller, and would have paid over a significant amount of money if not for her bank, who blocked the transaction.  

We would encourage everyone to be vigilant about what is shared online and especially social media. If you find yourself targeted or the victim of a financial scam please remember, it’s not your fault. This has been done to you, not by you.  

I know from personal experience how difficult this is to come to terms with. Please let us know. We will listen, and provide any help we can. Reporting this to your bank, and the Police can be unsettling, but it is important. If we can help with this please let us know. 

As a business, we are increasingly conscious of the importance of robust data security. Our recent launch of the Stewardship app is part of our response to increasing cyber resilience. Thank you to those who have logged in and for your feedback. It’s early days, but encouraging, nonetheless. We hope to expand the functionality later in the year to further protect your personal data and storage of important documents, so watch this space.