Microsoft survey shows tech support scammers have got better at hooking victims

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Curious as to the number of people who have been impacted by ‘support call scammers’, Microsoft has enlisted the help of YouGov, the polling company found tracking such hot button issues as whether eating breakfast cereal for dinner is odd, to find out. 

The polling firm asked 16,000 recipients in 16 countries whether they’d been approached by a support line scammer and how it went down. In all, 59% of respondents had been targeted in the last 12 months, with 7% of people actually losing money as a result of the conversation. Though it’s possible that more paranoid types didn’t even respond to YouGov’s queries, fearing that it in itself was a scam. You can be too careful, after all.

The good news is that the number of people actually approached, though still high, is lower than the last time Microsoft got YouGov to run the numbers, dropping from 64% to 59% – that’s largely driven by fewer pop-up ad scams and nasty website redirects. 

Fewer consumers who interacted with the caller actually persisted with the conversation too, falling from 19% to 16%, suggesting a more informed public. Despite this, the number of people actually losing money rose ever so slightly, going up one point on the 2018 figures.

One particularly interesting stat: those who engaged in what the company calls, euphemistically, “potentially risky activities” online lost money more often than the general web population. Thirty-eight percent of torrenters, 44% of media downloaders and 43% of people who share their email address in exchange for content reported some losses. More alarmingly, 6% of people who described themselves as having “expert” computer literacy also ended up out of pocket, which just goes to show that some people’s self esteem is near impossible to dent.

“Tech support fraud has evolved from pure cold calling to a more sophisticated infrastructure that leverages affiliate marketers to deliver professional-looking pop-ups to consumers, prompting them to contact fraudulent call centres,” explained Mary Jo Schrade, of Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia in a blog post.

“We also see scammers using email, search engine optimisation (SEO) and social engineering tactics to lure victims. These tactics have served to expand an enterprise model that is easily replicable, with perpetrators sharing resources, including referrals to call centres, leads and payment processors.”

If you want to learn a bit more about what these businesses look like in practice, I can thoroughly recommend this two-part episode of the Reply All podcast, where host Alex Goldman talks directly to a scammer from an Indian call centre, and ultimately goes out there to meet with the people responsible directly. It’s a real eye opener… 

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