82-year-old thought son-in-law was in trouble before losing $17K to scammers using AI, family says

Erica Simon Image
Saturday, November 4, 2023
82-year-old's family says he lost $17K because of AI-generated voice
An 82-year-old man living in a Sugar Land assisted living community lost $17,000 after speaking with someone he believed to be his son-in-law.

SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) -- When a loved one is in trouble, it's a no-brainer to help them. That is why when an 82-year-old Sugar Land man got a call that he needed to bail his son-in-law out of jail, he didn't hesitate and went to the bank to withdraw money.

But it turns out the call may have been AI-generated, and unfortunately, the bad guys got away with thousands.

Eyewitness News looked into how easy these voice-cloning tricks have become.

"The phone rang, and I answered the phone, and he said this is Sgt. Matthew. Your son-in-law has been in a serious accident," Jerry, whose family requested to have him referred to by his first name only, said.

Oct. 21 is a day he'll never forget.

He said a man claiming to be with the San Antonio Police Department called, saying that since his son-in-law was at fault for a crash, he was in jail.

That's when Michael Trueblood got on the phone to explain his predicament, or so Jerry thought.

"He said, 'I heard Michael's voice. I thought I was talking to Michael,'" Tammy Trueblood, Jerry's daughter, said.

Jerry added that the caller told him he needed to get $9,500 cash to get Michael out, then an additional $7,500. So he went to the bank, got it, and waited for a courier driver at his and his wife's assisted living facility in Sugar Land.

Now, he's out $17,000.

"Really sad. We really depended on that money. I'm going to have to get a job somewhere. H-E-B or something like that, to try to restore some of this money. Living in assisted living is not cheap," Jerry said.

Adam Dodge, a tech expert and founder of EndTAB, said he's seeing more and more voice-cloning tricks, and at this point, we can't always trust our eyes and ears to decipher what's real.

"AI has launched us 10, 15 years into the future. It does a really good job of enhancing scams, tracking people, allowing people to impersonate someone by stealing their likeness or their voice. Just do a variety of different things that, before, you would need a computer science degree to do. And now, you just need an app," Dodge explained.

Jerry wrote down the license plate numbers of the cars that picked up his money, but the Sugar Land Police Department didn't get far on the courier car services they were linked to. They're investigating, and there is a police report, although it's pretty vague.

For now, Jerry is warning others.

"I want people to be aware of who they're talking to. My family and I now, we have a certain password," Jerry said.

Eyewitness News didn't want to give people with ill intent a play-by-play of how to clone a voice, but there are Microsoft apps and other websites that do it. Experts suggest immediately verifying who you're talking to by hanging up and calling the person they're talking about. It only takes about three seconds for someone to clone your voice on certain software. You're advised not to answer numbers you don't know. If you do, get off as soon as something seems off.

As for Jerry and his wife, a family friend set up a GoFundMe page to help them get back on their feet.

For more on this story, follow Erica Simon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.