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Scammers clone the voice of Houston couple's son, cheat them out of thousands

A Harris County couple said phone scammers cloned their son's voice and convinced them to hand over $5,000 in cash. They even came to pick it up in person.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A Houston-area couple is out $5,000 after they said they were scammed into believing their son was involved in a crash.

They said it happened fast -- in less than two hours.

When the phone rang last Wednesday, Fred and Kathy were convinced that their son was in trouble. The voice on the other end of the line told them they needed $5,000.

The couple asked KHOU 11 News to not use their last names in order to conceal their identity.

Fred said the person told him and his wife that they had been in an accident and hurt another person.

"I could have sworn I was talking to my son. We had a conversation," Kathy said.

Authorities said they think the scammers used artificial intelligence to clone their son's voice.

Fred and Kathy were convinced. The person on the phone convinced them that their son was going to be charged with DWI and he was in the county jail. The parents were tricked into believing their son had just got out of the hospital with a broken nose, stitches and a looming high-profile court case.

"You're messing with my kids. I'll do anything for my kids," Kathy said.

The story kept getting more and more elaborate.

"This is a serious situation. He did hit a lady that was six months pregnant," Kathy said she was told. "It was going to be a high-profile case and she did lose the baby."

She even pushed back a cancer treatment appointment in order to try to handle the situation. At first, they were told they needed $15,000 to bail their son out, but eventually, that number was lowered to $5,000. The scammers insisted that in order to get their son out of jail faster, they would come to pick the money up themselves.

Experts said scammers use artificial intelligence technology to mimic voices.

"They actually don't need as much as you think," Eric Devlin, with Lone Star Forensics, said. "They can get it from different sources -- from Facebook, from videos that you have public, Instagram, anything you publish."

The couple said after they handed over the money, they realized it was a scam. They called their son, who was at work the whole time. Now, they're sharing their story because they don't want anyone else to become a victim.

"I mean we scrounged together the $5,000, but the next person could give them the last cent that they own," Kathy said.

So, how can you avoid becoming a victim? Experts said it's smart to verify everything. If a caller tells you that your child is in the hospital, hang up and call the hospital yourself.

The Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office is investigating the incident.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning about the rise in scammers using artificial intelligence to take advantage of their victims. 

Similar scams have surfaced in the Austin area.

Grace White on social media: Facebook | Twitter

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