Microsoft: Tech Support Scams Hit Two-Thirds of Consumers

A new study from Microsoft shows that scammers are growing increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to rope in younger, tech-savvier victims.

Microsoft tech support scam study

Similar to phishers, tech support scammers are getting craftier in their attempts to separate people from their money.

IT pros, computer experts and younger folks who have grown up surrounded by devices generally know better than to fall for tech support scams. Falsely claiming that their victims' PCs are at risk of imminent failure or infected with malware, fraudsters have been known to prey on the elderly by calling them up claiming to be from a well-known or reputable company and scaring them into paying for unneeded and often ineffective remedies.

According to a new study from Microsoft, relative youth and an aptitude for technology are no longer guaranteed to keep tech support scammers at bay. "By leveraging pop-ups, unsolicited email and scam websites as additional entry points for scams, fraudsters are reaching a broader number of people, including younger-than-expected victims," guest blogger Courtney Gregoire, a senior attorney in Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit, wrote in an Oct. 17 post on the National Cybersecurity Alliance's website.

"The data indicates that victims older than 65 are more likely to be reached by telephone (44 percent unsolicited call, 38 percent pop-up or online ad, 33 percent unsolicited email, and 26 percent redirected to website)," continued Gregoire. "In contrast, millennials aged 18 to 34 are more likely to have been redirected to a fraudulent website (50 percent) or duped by a pop-up advertisement (59 percent) as compared to receiving an unsolicited call (26 percent)."

In total, two-thirds of consumers worldwide have experienced a tech support scam in the last 12 months. A fifth of consumers continued a so-called "fraudulent interaction" after being first contacted, and nearly 10 percent lost money. Those who kept getting led on by scammers generally hailed from India (54 percent), China (35 percent) and the United States (33 percent), according to the report.

Fifty-five percent of those who continued to interact with scammers in the United States lost money. However, the vast majority (92 percent) were able to recoup at least some of their funds. Consumers in China (58 percent) and India (67 percent) were somewhat less successful in recovering lost funds.

Besides draining pocketbooks, fraudsters are also pilfering sensitive personal information by offering unneeded remote support services, setting the stage for identity theft.

"Every consumer needs to be vigilant and skeptical of any person who seeks remote access to their device," warned Gregoire. "During a remote-access session, fraudsters can access personal and financial information, alter device settings and leave behind unwanted or even malicious software. Previous reports indicate that fraudsters have turned off anti-virus software, downloaded unwanted and potentially harmful software and often regained access to the computer long after the 'support session' had ended."

Microsoft encourages users to be on the lookout for scammers and not purchase unsolicited software or services. Also, the company warns users not to relinquish control of their PCs to unknown third-party support teams. And if a caller makes a monetary demand, hang up immediately, advised Gregoire.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...