Bank Robbers in the Middle East Reportedly ‘Cloned’ Someone’s Voice to Assist with $47 Million Heist

Bank Robbers in the Middle East Reportedly ‘Cloned’ Someone’s Voice to Assist with $47 Million Heist
Photo: TIM SLOAN/AFP, Getty Images

Criminals appear to have stolen some $US35 ($47) million from a United Arab Emirates bank with the help of AI-enhanced voice simulation, according to a new report from Forbes. The “deepfaked” vocals were used to fool a bank employee into thinking he was handing over the cash on behalf of a legitimate business transaction associated with the bank.

The story, which is sourced from a recently uncovered court document, took place last January, when the undisclosed bank’s branch manager received a seemingly normal phone call. The person on the line claimed to be the director of a large company with whom the manager had previously spoken and they sounded just like them, the court document claims. This, paired with what appeared to be emails from the company and its lawyer, convinced the branch manager that the firm was in the midst of a large business deal worth $47 million. He subsequently followed the caller’s orders and began initiating a number of large money transfers from the company to new accounts. Unfortunately, it all turned out to be a sophisticated scam.

Dubai investigators have revealed that the crooks “used ‘deep voice’ technology to simulate the voice of the director.” Authorities believe that the scheme involved as many as 17 different people and that the stolen cash was funneled to a number of bank accounts scattered throughout the globe. Two of those accounts were with Centennial Bank in the U.S. and received some $US400,000 ($539,120) — which is why the case has now spilled into the American judicial system. UAE investigators have now reached out to American officials for help with their investigation.

Believe it or not, this is not the first time something like this has happened. In 2019, an energy company in the United Kingdom suffered a similar fate — with fraudsters managing to steal some $€220,000 (or A$327,515) by similarly impersonating the company’s CEO. And, according to people monitoring the AI market, it is unlikely to be the last time, either.

“Audio and visual deep fakes represent the fascinating development of 21st century technology yet they are also potentially incredibly dangerous posing a huge threat to data, money and businesses,” Jake Moore, a cybersecurity expert with ESET, told Forbes. “We are currently on the cusp of malicious actors shifting expertise and resources into using the latest technology to manipulate people who are innocently unaware of the realms of deep fake technology and even their existence.”

It’s clear that deepfake technology has been getting frighteningly good lately — just check out those Tom Cruise videos. Should we regulate them? Might be a good idea — though critics are split on what path new laws might take. Some people say such laws would create more problems than they solve, while others argue that they could impinge upon free speech and creative freedoms. Either way, it seems like we something we should all figure out ASAP, before multi-million dollar deepfake bank heists become the new normal.