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February 26, 2024 5 minutes to read ∙ 1200 words

TAPAs: Guarding Against Artificial Intelligence Scams and Robocalls

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, has stepped to the front of the line regarding hot technology topics. Unlike most technological evolutions, AI issues cover the waterfront from exceptionally good to horrific. It has that effect and scope as AI references the science of making machines that can think like humans. AI can recognize patterns, make decisions, and judge like humans, but it can assemble and assimilate huge amounts of data much more rapidly. As AI has evolved, people have found more things for it to do, many of which can help us personally and professionally.

AI currently comes without a moral compass and does the work assigned to it by humans. Unfortunately, the human race has many bad actors these days, and a lot of them have acquired technological proficiency enabling them to capitalize on AI’s functionality in ways that facilitate taking advantage of others using one of many techniques we refer to collectively as “scams.”

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle (Chase DiFeliciantonio, Feds Targeting AI Scam Calls (Feb. 11, 2024)), discusses one example of this problem. The article identifies robocalls using AI technology to generate voices as the number-one consumer complaint. The calls sometimes sound like a famous or familiar person. The technology uses both audio and text messaging.

The bad guys have used the technology to fool voters, collect “unpaid” utility bills, and even run scams by imitating the voices of the victim’s family members. This last scam, commonly called the “grandparents’” scam, preys on the elderly, trying to convince grandparents that a grandchild needs their help for any number of reasons, from transportation issues to bail money. Respecting voters, a recent scam used President Joe Biden’s voice to call voters and discourage them from voting in the New Hampshire primary this year. Respecting billing issues, we have seen calls purporting to come from utility companies, insurance providers, and government agencies respecting allegedly unpaid bills.

That the attorneys general for 26 states have contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to encourage it to clamp down on this abuse underscores its severity and significance. A Truecaller/Harris poll cited in the article above found that “[t]he number of phone scam victims in the U.S. nearly tripled between 2017 and 2022.” The article also notes that the FCC revealed that, in 2022, fraudulent calls and texts generated $1.13 billion in known losses.

The FCC responded by outlawing robocalls using AI-generated voices. We support the FCC’s action, but we do so tongue-in-cheek. While this seems like a step in the right direction, it remains only a step. Outlawing AI-generated robocalls does not mean they will not continue to occur. It only means that the government can prosecute those who do it and get caught.

Efforts to stop or limit robocalls and scam telephone calls or even sales calls by live people have historically proven less than successful. How many of you have used the “Do Not Call” system to try to prevent receiving such calls from telemarketers? How many of you stopped getting them? You can get software that will help you reduce such calls on your mobile phone (yes, they come to mobile phones as well these days), but, again, the technique has not proven successful in stopping them. The situation has reached the point that we get multiple calls of this sort daily and now simply do not answer the phone in our house unless the caller has caller ID on and is a person or calling from a number we recognize. If we miss a call we need to get, the caller will likely leave a message, and we can call back if appropriate.

Given that you will probably continue to get such calls and texts, you will want to protect yourself as much as possible. While you cannot yet stop the calls from coming, you can act in a manner that reduces your exposure to them and your susceptibility. We do not intend the following to be a complete list of all the things that you can do to protect yourself. An exhaustive list would require more space than we have available. We do, however, recommend that, at a minimum, you follow these suggestions and remember that avoiding AI scams involves vigilance, work, and skepticism.

Tip 1. Educate Yourself

Get informed and keep current about common AI scams and deceptive practices. The scams change over time, and new scams are always being introduced; accordingly, keeping current requires a continuing effort. Learn the capabilities and limitations of AI technology to better enable yourself to recognize fraudulent claims and unrealistic representations.

Tip 2. Don’t Trust, But Verify!

Carefully examine any claims or offers related to AI technology, products, or services—especially those that you suspect may come to you through an AI facilitation. Verify credentials, qualifications, and the reputation of individuals and/or organizations making such claims. Look for and check out independent reviews, testimonials, and expert opinion respecting the legitimacy of claims and products offered to you. Be cautious about such reviews, and limit your search to reviewers that you trust. Pretty much anyone can generate a review or a YouTube video about a product. Not all such reviewers have much in the way of qualifications or expertise; some may, in fact, have AI as their authors. Be cautious of AI-related offers promising unrealistic outcomes or guaranteed results. Offers that seem too good to be true usually are.

Tip 3. Beware the Jabberwock!

Research the company or organization offering AI products or services or with products or services offered using AI technology. Check their website, social media profiles, and online presence. Assess their credibility. Check out customer feedback—but be careful, as they can fake reviews. We look at customer feedback but rely more on independent reviews. Look for red flags, such as absent contact information, a lack of negative reviews, or suspicious business practices.

Tip 4. Resist High-Pressure Sales Tactics and Make an Informed Decision

Beware of high-pressure sales tactics and aggressive marketing techniques commonly used in AI scams. Be skeptical of attempts to pressure you to make immediate decisions or investments without adequate time for research or due diligence. Consult independent experts, professionals, and trusted advisors before making decisions related to AI investments, purchases, or partnerships. Obtain objective opinions and advice from individuals knowledgeable about AI technology and its applications. Look for certifications, accreditations, and industry affiliations that validate the legitimacy of AI-related products or services. Verify whether the company or individual offering AI solutions has received recognition from reputable organizations or industry associations.

Tip 5. Protect Your Personal Information

Watch out for AI-related offers that request sensitive personal or financial information up front. Avoid sharing personal information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, or passwords, unless you have verified the legitimacy of the offer and trust the entity requesting the information. Even then, consider it unwise and very dangerous to share passwords.

Good luck, and remember to utilize your natural intelligence!

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Jeffrey Allen

Oakland, CA

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Senior Technology Editor of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer (2013) and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips (2013). In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at [email protected].

Ashley Hallene

Houston, TX

Ashley Hallene ([email protected]) is an attorney and land manager with Demeter Renewable in Houston, Texas, and is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo magazine, the GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, the ABA Young Lawyers Division, and the Senior Lawyers Division.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 7, February 2023. © 2024 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.