Who Falls for Tech Scams?

Category: Privacy

Back in 2016, I reported on a study about who is most likely to fall for phone scams. Now that report has been updated with the results of a new survey of over 16,000 adults in 16 countries. There’s good and bad news in Microsoft's Global Tech Support Scam Research report. Read on for the details...

More Consumers Getting Wise To Tech Support Scams

Have you gotten an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be a Microsoft tech support agent. In this common scam, the caller says that there's a serious problem with your computer, and tries to scare the victim into paying for worthless "security" software. I wrote about this in my article Beware Fake Tech Support Scammers.

In my April 2016 article, Who Falls for Phone Scams?, I wrote that male millennials had the highest rate of gullibility to such scams, with 38% reporting they’d lost money in the past twelve months. The bad news, according to the new research report, is that young male adults are still the most likely demographic to fall for tech-related scams.

I suppose if you're not in that demographic, that's actually good news for you. But more broadly, people who grew up with the Internet are more likely to fall for tech support scams than older folks who remember rotary-dial phones. It seems younglings are over-confident in their expertise.

Report: tech scam alert

Millennials and Generation Z (basically, adults under age 35) engage in more risky online behavior overall, such as using email to trade media files, streaming movies or music, and patronizing Bittorrent sites. All of these activities make one vulnerable to scammers who substitute malware for the file that one expects, or offer links to malicious sites disguised as links to something more desirable. In this year’s survey, consumers who fell for scams were most often tricked into downloading malware (44%) or visiting a malicious web site (34%).

Millennials are also more likely to believe that reputable companies will reach out to people with unsolicited offers. No, son, Microsoft did not happen to notice that you’re having trouble with Skype; and if it did, it would wait for you to call for help.

Consumers Are Wising Up

One recent scam that was not covered in Microsoft's report was the Video Blackmail scam. I wrote about that back in August, and since then I have received over a dozen similar emails in which the sender claims to have compromising video, and threatens to share it with all my friends unless money is paid via an untraceable Bitcoin transaction.

On the bright side, consumer encounters with tech support scams declined a healthy five percent since the 2016 survey. Fewer people lost money to tech support scams, too – 6% in 2018 versus 9% in 2016. (An additional 8% spent time and money inspecting and repairing their PCs after encounters with tech support scams.) There were 12% fewer scams requesting Social Security Numbers (or their international equivalents). It seems people are wising up!

Seventy-five percent of consumers think it unlikely that reputable companies would initiate unsolicited contact, and 83% would distrust such contact. Those indicators of healthy skepticism are up 12 and 17 points, respectively. Seventy-six percent of those who encountered tech support scams said they suffered moderate to severe stress as a result. More than 70% said they came away from encounters with scams less confident that tech companies or software can protect them from scams.

In response to a hypothetical unsolicited tech support offer, 38% said they would try to block contact with the company, while 31% said they would spend some time researching the company and its offer via search engines and company websites.

What has been your experience with tech-related scams recently? Do you encounter them more or less often? How have they changed? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments below.

 
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Most recent comments on "Who Falls for Tech Scams?"

(See all 36 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

MIKE
25 Oct 2018

The significant advances in AI create new opportunities for people to be fooled. It is relatively easy to not only clone a person's voice from a very short sample, but to also create an image video. Really, the person you hear or see may simply NOT be who you think it is! Think how easily those grandmas will be fooled when they can actually see and hear what they KNOW is their grandchild!


Posted by:

David
25 Oct 2018

Had one today (I'm normally located in Spain) Apparently the female caller had noticed some security issues on my computer and proposed helping me----would I press certain keys. I replied by pointing out that I wasn't running Windows which she'd assumed---I was running Linux on one & an Apple system on another. She rang off almost immediately.


Posted by:

David
25 Oct 2018

I recently received an offer from my ISP on my phone. They were supposedly giving away a few top end cell phones. I had to answer a quiz and was then told I was a winner. I got suspicious when I got to the page to fill out details to claim my prize. It asked for too much information including DOB. I contacted the ISP and asked if it was a scam. It was. Dam it - I wanted that phone!!


Posted by:

MikieB
25 Oct 2018

I agree with what Mark N. said, develop an app that blows up their phone and the robots that make the calls.


Posted by:

Doug
25 Oct 2018

Two days ago my Wife's caller ID on her phone said "US Portuguese Embassy Washington DC". Like she's going to answer something like that!!!! ROFL


Posted by:

Neville (Auustralia)
25 Oct 2018

A few months ago I received a couple of phone calls on our new mobile phone (and very few had that number). They said they were from the Chinese Embassy and then a message (probably recorded) came on for about a minute in Chinese (which I don't speak). It then hung up. Not sure if it was spam, or whether (more likely) they had rung my number in error with a message for a Chinese person. Guess I will never know.


Posted by:

Robert A.
26 Oct 2018

About a week and a half ago. while on the Internet, out of nowhere, a mechanical, computer synthesized voice started to say "Warning, Warning, Microsoft Support has determined your computer has been infected with a virus. Do not shut off your computer, as shutdown will activate the virus. After about five seconds a nearly full screen pinkish box appeared on screen, with more text, including a 1-800 number to call to get the virus cleared. I knew it was a scam, as I had just ran a full set of scans, including anti-virus from Symantic, and iObit packages. I clicked on "shutdown." against the voice's admonition. Guess What? I restarted my computer, and it started normally, and has run perfectly fine ever since. Moral of the story: If you get a scary pop-up box accompanied by a mechanical voice, shut down immediately - it's a scam just trying to scare you into paying $300.00 to get fraudulent service on your computer.


Posted by:

R G Schmidt
26 Oct 2018

I mention this only because I haven't seen it here, nor heard of it before. Got a recorded call two days ago saying illegal activity had been traced to my Wi-fi, and I would be shut down and my account cancellled if I did not "press 1" for immediate assistance. Ignored it. Nothing bad happened.


Posted by:

Clay
26 Oct 2018

I have received 2 or 3 grey pop up screens over the past few months that can't be closed , and that say my computer has been infected and to call a number. The first time I tried everything I could think of, but nothing allowed me to use the computer. So I took it off line and unplugged the power. I let it set for about a day (I'm retired) and then restarted it and it rebooted OK. Now I just immediately pull the power cord and wait an hour or so and do a reboot. So far everything restarts normally.
I also get a quite a few telephone scams, lately from "The VISA/Mastercard Rewards Centre". I try to play them along and waste as much of their time as I can. They usually just hang up at some point.


Posted by:

Dirk
26 Oct 2018

Australian perspective; Stats are rather different. Its not male millenials but females and over 65 year olds. Excellent site, check it out you Aussies out there: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/attempts-to-gain-your-personal-information/remote-access-scams

I particularly like, in the 'Get Help' section 'Learn from Real-life Stories'


Posted by:

Wolfgang
26 Oct 2018

Yes! There are so many different types of hucksters out there. I used to have a "disposable" Yahoo account, which I used as "lightning rod" for spam, allowing my authentic e-mail accounts to be spam-free. In my Yahoo account, I would receive all sorts of junk, including the Tech scams Fortunately, I "saw through" the fake stuff - NEVER even opening those e-mails. I have terminated my Yahoo account, using another "disposable" account. In a year or 2, after the spammers "catch up," I will close that account down, repeating this "cycle" every couple of years. I also get scammers calling on my phones, with one of them being an IRS huckster. I hung up and blocked them. Typically, though, I never respond to any numbers that I do not recognize. Meanwhile, thank you for presenting more valuable information! We need to defend against hucksters, fakers, spammers, scammers, frauds, and low lifers!


Posted by:

SharonH
26 Oct 2018

I have found that senior aged women can be easy targets. I know two that paid out $150 to "Microsoft".

The Chinese scam is hilarious unless you speak Chinese. And then it can be scary to a person from that country. A translation indicates that they are from the Chinese Embassy. This scares a lot of Chinese people in New York (where the calls were concentrated) because they fear the long arm of that government, even if they did nothing wrong. It was/is one of the most highly successful phone scams in recent years. Sad.


Posted by:

Bob
26 Oct 2018

Now 83, I've started using a computer in 2003. I received dozens of calls plus the odd browser screen warning me to call Microsoft but never fell. For the past 3 years using Linux such is just a laugh. My rule - don't trust anyone including yourself. As I type this there is an ad for an ultrasonic rodent device. I google if such work and get information from pest control outfits so I add university to the entry and then get expert information they don't work.


Posted by:

Jim
26 Oct 2018

I am a 77 year old male. I have a 70 year old female neighbor who calls me just about e very month to tell me that Microsoft called her and she is now afraid to use her computer. Each tine, I tell her that Microsoft never calls and, unless she gave the caller access to the computer, there is no reason not to use it.


Posted by:

RalphC
26 Oct 2018

Like everyone has commented, I too have had the scam calls. Being retired, I love to play them along for as long as possible, especially the Microsoft scam. Than I ask what version of Windows I am running and of course they can’t tell. After a while, I tell them I use an Apple. Also have had the CRA scam. What amazes me now, is that they use phone numbers very similar to our own. Same area code, and same first 3 digits. Makes you answer because it could be a friend or neighbour. Love to waste their time.


Posted by:

Egbok
26 Oct 2018

I'm like Marc, Retired, plenty of free time and I like to play along. I had one idiot that called with the Microsoft Scam call back for a total of five days and must have waisted at least 2 hours of his time scamming others. I told the scammer that my grandson must have done it while he was playing games. I'd have the scammer call back tomorrow, same time, after I talked to my grandson. Day 6 no more calls. It's amazing how much these scammers will take like did you say RH or LH? Or my phone is in the kitchen and my computer is in the bedroom, plenty of time to make a cup of coffee and toast!


Posted by:

John
27 Oct 2018

I use a different approach. When a female caller from the 'Microsoft support center' told me they had seen a problem with my computer, I told her that I knew nothing was wrong with my computer but did her parents know that she was thief. I told her she was stealing money from people and it was wrong. After some denial, she said we Americans deserve it because we steal from everybody else. I calmly told her that no, most of us work hard for our money and are just trying to get by. I encouraged her to get a legal job. She hung up. Many of these scammers seem to work at call centers in foreign countries and I think they are given this anti-American spiel each morning to motivate them and ease any conscience they might have about it.


Posted by:

Therrito
28 Oct 2018

I've had Microsoft Scammers call several times. Most times I hold them on the line as long as possible so that they couldn't be busy with another potential victim, essentially just wasting their time on me, while I'm "trying but my PC is so slow". The longest I've been able to hold one was about 45 minutes until he finally gave up and left a string of cuss words just before the line went dead. I laugh at them every time. :-D


Posted by:

Geoff Byrd
29 Oct 2018

1. Interesting comment about PC Matic. I paid them a lifelong fee for a certain number of computers (I don't remember the #) thinking it was too good to be true but worth the under $100 price. (I don't remember exactly). After hearing mixed reviews I decided it wasn't worth the risk and never installed it on any of my computers, much less all of them. So as you may imagine I have been surprised to see them advertised on your site. Is this like AARP and United Healthcare? They advertise and promote them but they do NOT recommend them! Thanks.


Posted by:

Geoff Byrd
29 Oct 2018

I'm 73 and usually more hip than this, as I got myself into being snuckered. When Firefox updated their bookmarks I lost ALL of my log in information I had been storing there, Yikes. I went looking for a Firefox support contact and couldn't find one. So of course I Googled it and found a host of options claiming to provide support for Firefox. I called and a very nice lady said they could help and transferred me to their Tech support. Another very nice man asked permission to take over my computer & I did. He did a scan and then showed me a very long and detailed report of all the things they found wrong and that they could fix it for $299. I was now suspicious but was afraid because he had my computer so I agreed to pay the money. They sent me a contract relieving them of any responsibility and now I was terrified but I refused to sign it. They took the money and did some cleanup anyway and when it was said and done I prayed that I wasn't going to regret it. To be fair, in hind sight they did explain they were "a third party vendor" but I didn't catch what that meant, I thought sub contracted to Firefox. I also refused to give them a credit card (whew) so used PayPal. From them I learned the company is "It Trendz Solution LLC". I kept getting email reminders to sign the contract for several weeks from "Michael Williams" michael@myaco.org until they finally quit. I am now recovering all of my log ins and entering them into Norton Identity safe. The End.


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