Most of us have recorded a voicemail greeting for our phone. If nothing else, that greeting lets callers know they reached the right number. But we might also record a greeting that lets callers know what we’d like them to tell us when they leave a message. Or just to tell people that voicemail is totally uncool and they should text us instead.
However, none of us worried much that our greeting might ultimately be helping out scammers.
The Voice Cloning Problem
It’s now possible to create a high quality voice clone with as little as three seconds of an audio recording of someone’s voice. This technology isn’t generally available yet, though coming very quickly.
But it’s easy to get a good voice clone using technology that’s readily available and ten seconds or more of audio.
And how long is a typical voicemail greeting? Yup, right around 10 seconds.
In fact, here’s a recording of a voicemail greeting that Samuel Jackson did on the Colbert show a few years ago. Not even super high quality. But we ran it through lovo.ai’s free voice cloning tool and this is the resulting message telling someone to quickly buy a bunch of gift cards for their boss. Not perfect, but passable. And it could easily fool someone who isn’t paying a ton of attention.
The bottom line is that if someone can get your voicemail greeting, they can clone your voice and tie it to your phone number.
And how do they get your voicemail greeting? They simply call you and record whatever they hear before the beep. Child’s play for robocallers.
Why Voice Cloning Matters
You might think: who cares?
The issue is that it’s super simple for a bad guy to create messages in your voice. Once they have that, they can impersonate you and call your family, saying you’re kidnapped and they need to pay a ransom. They can call your friends and say you are in trouble and need money right away. Or they can even call a fellow employee, saying you need to run out and buy gift cards.
Unfortunately, the possibilities are endless.
Looking ahead a bit, it’s clear that a clever robocaller can basically build a large set of voice clones by calling everyone who works for a company, or who lives in a particular area, or who happen to be in a particular data breach. And it’s not super hard to then pull together a target list. For example, they can grab the name and phone number of employees at your company from a source like LinkedIn. Or find all of your contacts from a data breach on the dark web.
Scammers are clever and will test their way into what works the best.
And it all starts with your helpful voicemail greeting.
So what should all of us do?
First, don’t record a voicemail greeting in your own voice! Use a voicemail service that lets you create a personalized voicemail greeting in another voice. YouMail is an example. It is a mobile app to protect against phone scams, in part by replacing your mobile phone’s voicemail service. It has a feature called a smart greeting that uses a cool computer voice to greet people with like this:
"Hi Bill, Margaret can't come to the phone right now. Please leave a message."
This way the caller knows who you are, without you having to say anything. (For an added bonus, YouMail can greet callers by name, which tends to impress callers that your phone knows who they are. And you can even pick the voice you want it to use. And even add information about your full name or company.) This makes it impossible for the bad guys to use your greeting to clone your voice.
Second, make sure that you have a family or company code word. It can be something simple, like “gelato”. Just make sure your family members know it and don’t share it outside your family. Any message or caller that doesn’t include the code word is likely to be a voice clone and can be safely ignored.
Finally, be relentlessly suspicious. Unfortunately, this is not our parent’s telephone network. This is the hardest action to take, since your heart is likely pumping if you hear that a family member’s been in an accident and needs money. Or you’ve got a call from the CEO of the company ordering you to transfer money to solve a problem. But the simple fact is, that call is way more likely to be a scam than to be real.
Voice cloning is hear to stay, but you can and should protect yourself against it as much as you can.