Jennifer DeStefano, a Scottsdale mother with two children, delivered a gripping testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. She recounted a distressing phone call that she initially believed was from her 15-year-old daughter, Brianna, on January 20.
Following the incident, DeStefano has urged lawmakers to take immediate action in response to the AI-related threats. She expressed frustration over authorities dismissing her complaint.
Speaking before the subcommittee on human rights and the law, DeStefano recounted receiving a call from an unfamiliar number while she was picking up her younger daughter, Aubrey, from a dance rehearsal.
“At the final ring, I chose to answer it, as unknown calls can often be a hospital or a doctor,” she recalled.
“It was Briana sobbing and crying, saying, ‘Mom.’ At first, I thought nothing of it and casually asked her, ‘What happened?’ I had the phone on speaker walking into the parking lot to meet her sister,” she told the panel.
Brianna was expected to be with her father, engaging in ski race training.
“‘Mom, I messed up!’” the person she thought was her daughter said through uncontrollable sobs, the traumatized mom recounted. “‘Mom, these bad men have me. Help me! Help me!’”
She described how realistic the clone was because, “it wasn’t just her voice, it was her cries, it was her sobs.”
Out of nowhere, a bone-chilling male voice took over the call and issued a demand for a $1 million ransom.
“A threatening and vulgar man took the call over. ‘Listen here. I have your daughter. You call anybody, you call the police, I’m gonna pump her stomach so full of drugs. I’m gonna have my way with her. I’m gonna drop her in Mexico. You’ll never see your daughter again,’” an emotional DeStefano recalled, fighting back tears.
“It started at $1 million. It was reduced to $50,000 because that wasn’t possible. I asked him for wiring instructions,” she said, adding that he refused and demanded that she get inside a van with a bag over her head with the cash in hand.
Another mom soon told her that she had reached her husband, who found Brianna “resting safely in bed.”
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“She came to me and told me that Brianna was safe but I did not believe her because I had just spoken to my daughter and I was very sure of her voice and I was very sure of her cries,” she said.
“I will never be able to shake that voice and the desperate cries for help out of my mind,” she added.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to hear their child pleading in fear and pain, knowing that they are being harmed and are helpless.”
DeStefano said she later found out that artificial intelligence scams are common.
“They can use not just the voice, but the inflection, the emotion. I still didn’t believe it, because I heard — I talked to my daughter. It was my daughter,” she said.
Upon reporting the distressing deep fake scam to the police, the desperate mother was disheartened when they dismissed it as a mere “prank call.” She was informed that no action could be taken since no actual kidnapping had occurred and no money had been transferred.
In her warning, the mother emphasized the critical need to control, regulate, and protect against this AI threat. She expressed concerns that if left unchecked, it would completely reshape our comprehension and interpretation of truth.