AI A New Cyber Threat To Wyomingites, Who Were Scammed Out Of $14 Million

Last year, Wyoming residents were bilked out of nearly $14 million in internet scams with people over 60 taking the hardest hit. Extortion accounted for the greatest number of crimes, followed by tech support scams and non-delivery of paid goods and services.

Jen Kocher

April 14, 20246 min read

Scammer 4 13 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Wyoming woman was immediately suspicious when she got a random text message from someone asking if her phone belonged to someone named “Lisa.”

Upon responding that she was not Lisa, the sender initiated a conversation as if trying to forge a friendship.

The woman became suspicious, and after a quick Google search learned that this sort of friendship tactic is a common ploy to rope people into fraudulent schemes, typically involving investments.

In another instance, an unidentified Wyoming resident received multiple emails from someone appearing to be their boss with the correct name and job title. The emails asked the employee if they had a moment and could do the boss a favor.

The email went on to say that the boss was in a conference meeting and only had access to email.

Before responding, the Wyoming resident texted the boss, who was actually at a conference, to see if the emails were genuine. They weren’t. After accessing the email address claiming to be from the boss, they noticed it was indeed an attempt at spoofing the recipient.

It’s not clear what the cybercriminal was after, but likely they would have asked the employee to send gift cards or make some other fraudulent request involving money.

These attempted cybercrimes were reported to the nonprofit CyberWyoming, which releases a weekly “Hackers Brief” highlighting scams across the state compiled by Natalie Demple, marketing and public relations director for the nonprofit.

These scams are just the tip of the iceberg, Demple said, as cybercriminals become increasingly more sophisticated in their schemes to target victims with increasing success.

‘Alarming trend’

Last year, Wyoming residents were bilked out of nearly $14 million in various internet scams with people age 60 and older taking the hardest hit for a loss of nearly $5.7 million, according to the FBI’s 2023 state report.

Extortion accounted for the greatest number of crimes, followed by tech support scams and non-delivery of paid goods and services.

Nationally, internet crimes accounted for a loss of $12.5 billion in 2023, compared to $10.3 billion in 2022 and $6.9 billion the year prior, according to the FBI’s 2023 internet crime report. This is a total of $37.4 billion in losses dating back to 2019.

It’s part of an alarming trend, the FBI said, with last year revealing a record number of complaints with an increase in both the frequency and financial impact of cybercrimes for an increase of 10% in complaints and 22% in financial losses compared to 2022.

Among the states hardest hit was California, which experienced losses in excess of $2 billion, the report stated.

Fakes Up

In Wyoming, residents are most susceptible to crimes involving fake notifications, invoices, contest winnings and other offerings, according to stats gathered by CyberWyoming.

The second most vulnerable target is phishing schemes in which scammers send emails impersonating legitimate companies containing links that consumers are asked to click on for a variety of reasons, whether it be for a discount, renew a membership or other reasons.

Clicking on the link or opening an attachment allows the scammer to infect a user’s computer with malware designed to steal personal information, IP addresses, passwords to breach accounts or identities, among other nefarious acts.

Harbor Freight was the most impersonated company involving cybercrimes in Wyoming last year, followed by Norton LifeLock, Kohl’s, Geek Sqaud and PayPal.

Other Scams

Ransomware attacks continue to be a problem in Wyoming, according to Laura Baker, executive director of CyberWyoming.

The greatest breach was the 2019 ransomware attack on Campbell County Health, which shut down the computer network, knocking out more than 1,000 computers and forcing the hospital to pay the $1.5 million ransom of which $1 million was recouped in an insurance settlement.

Cybercriminals attempted to breach the city of Rawlins’ computer systems in December, but were thwarted before any compromised information could be released.

Sextortion is also a common ploy targeting teens. A scammer pretends to be a student that person’s age and asks the target to exchange nude photos or videos. The criminal then threatens to send the sensitive material to their friends and family on social media unless they pay up.

In these cases, Baker said, the scammer often gets away with it because the teens are too embarrassed to report the crime to their parents or law enforcement.

“The good news, though, is that teens seem to be catching on and it’s happening less,” she said.

Fake products and services offered on social media are also on the rise in Wyoming and elsewhere, Demple said, citing a recent example from a woman in southeastern Wyoming who was scammed.

She was attempting to buy a couch on Facebook Marketplace from a man who said he’d use the cash app Venmo to pay her. She was unfamiliar with the app, but created an account to do the transaction.

Later, she got an email from Venmo saying that she had an overcharge and needed to pay it back. She ended up paying him the money without receiving the couch.

The seller had even taken the time to set up a fake Facebook profile in which he appeared wearing a police uniform shirt while posing with who he claimed was his wife and four children.

Baker cautions people from purchasing anything on Facebook unless it’s a cash transaction.

Fake Voices

Most alarming to both Demple and Baker is a recent artificial intelligence-derived scheme as reported in The New Yorker.

In this case, a Brooklyn couple, Bob and Mona, received a call from someone claiming to be their mother-in-law, who said Bob was being held hostage. The voice sounded exactly like the mother-in-law, and Bob’s voice confirmed that the kidnapping was real.

The scammer even tricked the son-in-law, who was in law enforcement, to send the requested ransom via Venmo. After transferring the money, the couple confirmed that both were safe and that they were victims of an AI-driven scam. They were able to recoup the ransom money in the end, but the scam was indicative of how AI is being used for nefarious purposes.

To avoid falling prey to these types of scams, Baker suggests creating a family password to use in these circumstances.

If Baker gets a call from her daughter staying that she’s stuck in a jail in Mexico and needs bail money, she’ll ask for the family password to verify her identity.

In the end, traditional methods such as family passwords might be the safest solution as cybercriminals become more advanced.

Jen Kocher can be reached at:

Jen Kocher can be reached at

Share this article



Jen Kocher

Features, Investigative Reporter