State works to educate public about rising threat of cybercrime across Montana

By Bryanna Carroll  |  NBC Montana

The FBI reports cybercrimes are up 62% from 2019 levels, and since then, losses from internet scams have more than tripled, coming in at $12.5 billion last year. Montana is not immune to the threat. In 2023, the state ranked No. 7 nationwide for highest losses per capita.

“I think that sometimes people think being kind of a smaller state in population, that maybe these things aren’t really happening here, but they are,” Blair Stapleton told NBC Montana.

Stapleton is with the Office of the Montana State Auditor, and she’s currently traveling around the state as part of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance’s Protecting the Big Sky tour hosting educational events with the goal of preventing people from falling victim to these kinds of crimes before they occur.


“Allowing yourself to, you know, be self aware and be up-to-date on what’s happening is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones,” said Stapleton.

Though the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance has been trying to crack down on cybercrimes in Montana, as technology becomes more advanced, it’s becoming more difficult to do so.

State Auditor and Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Troy Downing says AI is of particular concern, as it can be used to imitate the voices of real people.

“It’s good right now, it’s going to be better tomorrow. And before we know it, it’s going to be close to impossible to detect,” said Downing. “As (technology) continues to improve and artificial intelligence continues to improve, we need to find new ways of combating that and preparing for that.”

Because it can often be challenging for law enforcement to catch the culprit of cyberscams and even harder to regain lost funds, Stapleton says education is one of the best ways to safeguard against scams.

That’s something Susan Bivins knows all too well. Bivins fell victim to a scam in 2022 soon after retiring to Anaconda to be close to her son and granddaughter.

She said it all started with a phone call from Amazon verifying charges on her account. Nothing seemed awry, because she had reported unusual charges just a couple of weeks earlier. But soon she was transferred to a man posing as a DEA agent by the name of Randall Jenkins, who would use scare tactics and an elaborate scheme to convince her to hand over her entire life savings and retirement fund, more than $240,000.

Now she works with groups like AARP to share her story and help spread awareness, so these types of scams don’t happen to anyone else.

“I went from a victim to, you know, a survivor, and now I’m out telling people and trying to make sure that this doesn’t happen to them,” said Bivins.

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