Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints globally from people.
Microsoft released findings of its 2021 Global Tech Support Scam Research report that looks at tech support scams and their impact on consumers. The new findings reveal Australians are among those most likely to fall victim to tech support fraud, second only to India in Asia Pacific, with 24 per cent of those who engaged with cyber criminals reporting that they had unauthorised money transfers from their bank accounts after engaging with the scammers.
Over the past 12 months, 68 per cent of Australians surveyed encountered a scam – just a two-point decrease from 2018. Globally, consumers reported a more drastic drop from 64 per cent in 2018 to 59 per cent in 2021. Of Australians who continued with a scam interaction in 2021 (19 per cent), about one in 10 of them (9 per cent) lost money as a result – a three-point increase from 2018 (6 per cent). This is slightly higher than the global average, where 17 per cent of those surveyed continued with a scam and 7 per cent lost money as a result.
Australian Millennials (aged 24-37) and Gen Xers (aged 38-53) were the most susceptible to such scams, where 31 per cent and 30 per cent respectively continued with a scam; the likelihood of Gen Zers (aged 18-23) continuing with such a scam was significantly lower at 16 per cent. In contrast, globally, Gen Zers and Millennials were found to have continued interactions most when targeted with scams – 23 per cent for both age groups. Males in Australia were also more likely to engage with such scams (61 per cent), which was significantly higher than the global average of 20 per cent.
Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints globally from people who have been the victim of a tech support scam; this is down from 13,000 reports in an average month in prior years. To better understand how the problem with tech support scams is evolving globally and to enhance efforts to educate consumers on how to stay safe online, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for this global survey in 16 countries, including four Asia Pacific markets – Australia, India, Japan, and Singapore. This is a follow-up to similar surveys that Microsoft fielded in 2018 and 2016.
Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel, Regional Lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia, said: “Tech support scams are perpetrated globally and target people of all ages. The survey findings reveal that Australians are experiencing higher-than-average tech support scam encounters when compared globally, showing that consumers need to understand how these scammers work to better enable them to protect themselves from scams. Tactics used by fraudsters to victimise users online have evolved over time, from pure cold calling to more sophisticated ploys, such as fake “pop-ups” displayed on people’s computers. We are committed to online safety and hope these survey findings will help better educate people so they can avoid becoming victims of these scams.”
Fewer exposed to scams; unsolicited contact remains largely untrusted
The slight drop in scam encounters in Australia between 2018 to 2021 (from 70 per cent to 68 per cent) seems to have been largely driven by the decrease in pop-up ads and website redirect scams. Scams involving pop-ups dropped the most by four points to 39 per cent and redirects to websites also decreased two points to 34 per cent during the same period. However, unsolicited calls and unsolicited emails received by Australian customers increase by one point to 46 per cent and 41 per cent respectively in 2021.
Australian consumers continue to be distrustful of unsolicited contact. Of those surveyed in 2021, 88 per cent thought that it was very or somewhat unlikely a company would contact them via an unsolicited call, pop-up, text message, ad, or email.
More lost money to scams; fewer experienced stress
While the proportion of Australian consumers who continued with such scams stayed relatively stable (19 per cent in 2021; 18 per cent in 2018), more lost money because of these scams (9 per cent in 2021; 6 per cent in 2018). The amount lost by those who continued interacting with such scammers was about A$126 on average.
Of Australian consumers who continued with scam interactions and lost money, 68 per cent experienced less severe or moderate levels of stress in 2021 – compared with 74 per cent in 2018; this is one-point lower than the global average of 69 per cent in 2021 – compared with 78 per cent in 2018.
Millennials, Gen X, and males most likely to fall victim to scams
In Australia, one in three Millennials were most likely to continue with a scam (31 per cent), followed by Gen Xers (30 per cent). Males (61 per cent) in Australia were also most likely to have continued with such scams in 2021 as compared with females surveyed (39 per cent).
Interestingly, Gen Zers targeted in Australia were least likely to continue interacting with scammers (16 per cent) when compared to all the other age groups. This is despite them reporting that they engage in riskier online activities, such as using bit torrent sites (19 per cent) and downloading music or video content (33 per cent); such risky online behaviour was also seen among Millennials and Gen Xers, where 18 per cent and 13 per cent respectively were likely to use bit torrent sites, and 33 per cent and 25 per cent of them downloaded music or video content online.
What Microsoft is doing to combat scams
The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) is working to help combat this issue by partnering with law enforcement, strengthening technology, and educating consumers. Microsoft has been fighting against tech support scams since 2014 and has supported law enforcement officials to take legal action against scammers across the years in Asia, the U.S., and Europe.
The DCU works to combat tech support scams by (1) investigating tech support fraud networks and referring cases to law enforcement as appropriate, (2) strengthening Microsoft’s products and services to better protect consumers from various fraudulent tactics, and (3) educating consumers about this type of fraud by providing guidance and resources on how to identify, avoid, and report them.
Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel, Regional Lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia added, “Tech support scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about these scams and can avoid them. The best way consumers in Australia and Asia Pacific can protect themselves is to learn about how these scammers are targeting people, be suspicious of any unsolicited contact from purported tech company employees and avoid letting people they do not know remotely access their computers.”
Microsoft recommends keeping in mind the following tips should consumers receive a notification or call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or any other reputable company:
- Be suspicious of pop-up messages on your computer, and do not call the number or click on the link in any pop-ups received.
- Download software only from official company websites or the Microsoft Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the company’s knowledge to bundle support scam malware and other threats.