FTC will hold competition to curb AI phone scams


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As Congress scrambles to push forward regulations for artificial intelligence, the Federal Trade Commission is taking matters into its own hands.

The FTC announced last week that it would host a competition challenging private citizens to find solutions to protect people from AI-generated phone scams.

The scams can use AI to clone a loved one’s voice, making it sound like they’re in trouble and tricking unsuspecting people into coughing up big bucks.

“Anyone can be … hit by these kind of scams,” said Will Maxson, the assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices. “It’s going to be very hard for the consumer, who thinks they’re talking to their grandson, to their child, to know whether it’s a real person.”

The FTC is offering a $25,000 reward to anyone who can innovate a solution, essentially leveraging the same AI technology to protect consumers, Maxson said. Applications will open in January. The agency previously held similar crowdsourcing competitions to help combat robocalls.

The number of reported phone scams has dropped dramatically since 2019, but the scams themselves have grown more effective.

“‘Cause when you hear a trusted voice on the phone, you act differently then when you’re hearing from someone you don’t know,” explained Lisa Gilbert of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “There’s significant risk to families to small businesses.”

She applauded the FTC’s strategy.

“I think it’s really smart,” she said. “The problem with AI is that we don’t have guardrails and it’s evolving incredibly rapidly and we need more minds crowdsourcing.”

But she said it must be only one piece of a broader solution. Ultimately, she said, Congress must pass legislation to protect consumers from AI fakes.

“There are many others — when you think about deepfakes that can infiltrate our elections or misleading advertisements or calls,” Gilbert said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged to pass sweeping AI regulations but has yet to roll out a package.

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