Criminal AI use provides unique challenges for law enforcement

With advances in artificial intelligence (AI) that are showing the world what good it can do, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeing criminals use
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 6:28 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - With advances in artificial intelligence (AI) that are showing the world what good it can do, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeing criminals use it for the wrong reasons.

FBI Special Agent in Charge for Oregon, Kieran Ramsey said with any new technology, criminals find a way to use it for themselves. As AI rapidly becomes part of society, criminals are integrating it in their activities just as fast.

“They’re leveraging it in any number of ways,” Ramsey said . “We see it popping up in cases of sextortion, we’re seeing it in cases of hoax threats, we see it in virtual kidnap for ransom cases.”

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Ramsey said in sextortion cases, criminals will take photos of children, alter them to look like nude photos, and use the photos to demand money from a family saying a payment will help get the image off the internet.

It’s a similar situation in virtual kidnap for ransom cases. Instead of using photos, AI generates a phone call with a fake voice of a family member. Over the phone, the voice will say something along the lines of being in danger and a payment would need to be made. Ramsey said virtual kidnapping for ransom cases are happening around the country, but AI sextortion is happening right now in Oregon.

“Now someone is taking their benign content and making it explicit and convincing them that oh yes this will be used against you is really, really concerning,” Ramsey said .

The most recent public example of AI causing chaos and confusion happened in Eugene last month. Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said during a press conference last week that two students at South Eugene High School paid someone online to create an AI-generated voice to call in a threat to the school.

Every Wednesday for four weeks, the phone would ring at the school and the caller said they were in the bathroom with a gun and an explosive. Every Wednesday, the school was placed into lockdown and police swept the campus. Though the students were eventually arrested and the threats stopped, the anxiety still lingers with their classmates.

“I honestly don’t really feel safer,” sophomore Venessa Armani said. “Even though they found the person, now people are getting more and more ideas of how to trick the school.”

“The same thing could always happen again, another group of students could just be playing a trick or something,” Freshman Zie Fragoso said.

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Ramsey said even though each phone call was a hoax, law enforcement has to take each one seriously.

“Kids, people are being fooled into using this technology to send a hoax that drains law enforcement resources for hours at a time, traumatizing a whole classroom if not a whole school of children all the while it’s not legitimate,” Ramsey said.

He said the FBI is constantly researching new technology to see how criminals could integrate them into their operations. But he said historically, criminals work faster than lawmakers as they try to create regulations on new technology.

“Unfortunately we have to wait for that regulatory policy, that law to come out that gives us a new tool in the toolbox to combat whatever that thing is,” Ramsey said. “But at the same time, we got to make sure whatever tools we have now, we are fully using, to prevent any further harm and stop any schemes were seeing right now.”

The Eugene Police Department did not disclose what the two students are being charged with. The case has been referred to the Lane County District Attorney’s Office.

When it comes to sextortion, Ramsey said you can go to to learn more and make reports to the FBI.