AI-enhanced scams targeting UB

smartphone receiving a call.

A call from a scammer on a smartphone.

Published February 9, 2024

Your phone rings, and a family member frantically claims to have been kidnapped. Suddenly, another voice interjects, demanding a substantial ransom. It's a frightening scenario, but it's probably an imposter scam. 

Imposter scams have been a concern, both at UB and nationally, for some time. Recent developments indicate that they are becoming more sophisticated, thanks to the growing use of AI programs.

And while AI is often used for good, cloned voices, created through accessible AI technology, have added a new layer of realism to scams, making them even more convincing.

What are imposter scams?

“If the message or call seems to include fear and/or greed tactics, always be skeptical and suspicious. ”
Dr. Cathy Ullman, Principal Technology Architect, Security
UB Information Security Office


Canfield photo.

Michael Canfield joined UB in January 2023 as an IT Communications Specialist for UBIT. A former newspaper reporter with a background in higher ed communication, Michael is also a volunteer firefighter. When he’s not writing or learning about all things UBIT, Michael likes to spend time with his wife and two English bulldogs. 

These imposter scams can take several forms. Your family or friends may get a phone call with an AI-version of your voice, saying you’ve been kidnapped. Conversely, you could receive that call. 

Other scams are out there as well. For instance, you might get a call or message from someone saying they’re in law enforcement, demanding that you respond or you’ll suffer legal consequences. International students may receive calls or messages claiming their visas are in jeopardy.  

“The line that connects these scams is that they all depend on using emotion to get what they want, said Dr. Cathy Ullman, Principal Technology Architect, Security with UB’s Information Security Office. 

“If the message or call seems to include fear and/or greed tactics, always be skeptical and suspicious,” she added.  

How to protect yourself

  • Limit social media exposure: Refrain from posting information about your whereabouts or upcoming plans on social media platforms to reduce the risk of scammers targeting you or your family.
  • Establish a family password, or safe word: Create a unique family password/safe word that can be used as a verification tool. In case of a suspicious call, request the caller to provide the password/safe word before taking any action.
  • Buy time and make a plan: If you receive a call claiming a kidnapping, stay calm. Write a discreet note to someone else, if possible, informing them of the situation, and call someone for support. This extra time can be crucial for making informed decisions and alerting law enforcement.
  • Involve law enforcement: In the event of a virtual kidnapping, ask someone else with you to call 911 immediately. Swift action is crucial in such situations.
  • Guard financial information: Be cautious about sharing financial information over the phone. Virtual kidnappers often demand ransom through wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards. Verify the legitimacy of the situation before providing any sensitive information.
  • Verify calls: If you receive a call that raises suspicions, don't blindly trust the voice on the other end. Attempt to contact your loved one through a family member, friend, or someone else in the room to confirm their safety.
  • Report the scam: Let UPD know what happened as soon as possible. They can be reached at 716-645-2227.  

Need more help?

Contact the UBIT Help Center any time you need help with UB technology, online at or by phone at 716-645-3542.