FRIDAY FOCUS: Internet Crimes Soar Across Wyoming with Annual Losses at Nearly $18M
Laura Baker’s nonprofits offer cybersecurity training for businesses, residents
- Published In: Columns
- Last Updated: May 12, 2023
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Cybercrimes and internet-related theft are on the rise in Wyoming. Losses to citizens and businesses statewide have more than tripled in three years, soaring from $5M in 2020 to just under $18M in 2022, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The top cybercrimes involved investment scams, business email compromises, tech support scams and non-payment or non-delivery of goods and services.
Laura Baker is on a mission to protect Wyoming citizens and businesses from falling victim to online scams. In 2017, she formed CyberWyoming to provide cybersecurity training for Wyoming businesses. Two years later, she launched CyberWyoming Alliance, which offers cyber education and outreach programs for the general public. Baker runs both nonprofits full time with the help of two part-time employees.
Baker, 53, has spent her career in project management, information systems and software development. Originally from Oxford, Mississippi, she moved to Laramie during middle school when her father, a college instructor, took a job at the University of Wyoming. Baker earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the UW and an MBA from Texas Tech University.
The Wyoming Truth recently spoke with Baker about the rise in cybercrimes and her work. What follows are excerpts from the interview.
How did you get into cybersecurity? What prompted you to launch the nonprofits?
Baker: I was working part time as a technology project manager for a managed service provider. So instead of software development, I was doing systems implementation management and that was really fun. Because they’re quicker wins…software development might take a year before you start seeing results and get through testing, but hardware implementation might take three months, so you get the wins and get to celebrate more often. And I really liked that. It was fun learning the other side of technology.
[During that time] I realized the IT industry was selling its services and products wrong because we were walking in saying our products are the best, and we have the best people and all that kind of stuff. Everybody else was saying the same thing. So we were actually generating distrust in the industry. A lot of times we’d bring in a tech person, and they’re super smart, but they use all these acronyms. And they don’t actually know how to start at the ABC level because they’re speaking engineering. There were also a lot of miscommunications as well, and I remember thinking we’re not selling this correctly and it’s not working…I was trying to morph our sales pitches into something that was more meaningful to small businesses.
Then I decided to start a nonprofit. I had worked for nonprofits in the past and really loved the mission. What you do day-to-day feels very significant. So Pat [Wolfinbarger, co-founder of CyberWyoming] and I got together with Jim Drever, [a regional director of the Wyoming Small Business Development Center], and said, “We’ve got to do this differently.” We started out just creating a checklist for business leaders and then we realized that wasn’t enough. We needed to walk them through it and teach them the basics from a level zero…Then we realized we didn’t want to do this just for businesses. We were leaving out students, teachers and parents and families, so that’s when we came up with CyberWyoming Alliance two years later.
What are some programs that CyberWyoming Alliance offers for residents?
Baker: We’ve just finished the Cyber in a Box School Video Challenge, where we partner with the Wyoming State Library to encourage high school and middle school kids to make a video of a cyber safety topic this year. This year, we challenged them to demystify blockchain. Next year, we’re actually thinking about challenging them to demystify with hospital technology…We also partner with AARP to create [educational] flyers that are tucked into meal deliveries for seniors, because a lot of times they’re targets [of scams]. We provide them with an alert list of recent cyber scams. Some of those include tax and Etsy scams, as well as a warning that hackers can steal data from a phone through the USB cable as its charging.
We try to go over to senior centers to help them with various issues they might be struggling with on their computers or phones. [We] teach them how to better secure those devices. It’s on a case-by-case basis on what they need.
For the first time in June, we will host a free week-long camp for girls. This year’s theme is a murder mystery in a business creative firm and a mock hospital with electronic medical records, where the girls will be playing the roles of personnel at the hospital from HR all the way to the ER doc. Every week, we publish a Hacker’s Brief where Wyoming citizens send us emails reporting phishing and various other scams.
Which demographic is most susceptible to scams?
Baker: The elderly demographicloses the most money, but they actually get scammed less often than Gen Z-ers and young millennials, who fall for scams more often. They just don’t have as much money to lose. They’ve grown up with technology, and they trust it more. A couple of years ago, employment scams were popular. Others involve online shopping and investing and cryptocurrency scams.
What does an employment scam look like?
Baker: Some of these employment scams are really, really high touch. They’ll post a job ad on Indeed or Monster and other sites. Usually the job involves remote work from home. In some cases, they’ll have a website that looks real and will have spent the time putting it together. They might have forums on the back end for applying, unless the FTC gets a hold of them before they start scamming people. It’s pretty hard to find that they aren’t a real company. When you apply, you might have to pay for a background check for yourself, and that’s how they get you. In some cases, you might have worked for a couple of weeks and then get a paycheck that’s fake. Or they say they’re going to train you for the next two weeks, but you have to pay for it first and then they will reimburse you with your first paycheck. They keep up that ruse until you get the fake paycheck, and then they ghost you. A lot of Gen Z-ers haven’t had a checking account and don’t really know how bank accounts work. They don’t know that it could take two weeks for a check to clear, so they get it and think it’s real.
How can you protect yourself from falling victim to an employment scam?
Baker: I think one of the best things you can do in that situation is to check with the Better Business Bureau and see if that company has been open for a long time. If it’s just open a couple of months, and the BBB doesn’t have any information on them, maybe they might be fake. Also, talk to your banking representatives. They hear about scams and can alert you.
What can small business owners and individuals do to avoid getting scammed online?
Baker: The biggest thing a small business can do is secure cloud access. If you have an
employee leave and they’re disgruntled, they could go in and really mess up your QuickBooks by logging in from somewhere else. Two good and easy tips to protect oneself: Put multi-factor authentication on all your financial accounts and email accounts to verify your identity, and use strong, unique passphrases like “ID0n’tLik3CrunchyPB!”