Tech support scams appear to be declining globally, but those individuals most likely to continue interactions when targeted by scammers seem to be younger people, a potentially problematic trend as Millennials and Gen Zers climb the career ladder.
On 22 July, Microsoft released the findings from its 2021 Global Tech Support Scam Research report, which looks at tech support scams and their impact on consumers.
Microsoft commissioned YouGov for the global survey in 16 countries, including four Asia Pacific (APAC) markets: Australia, India, Japan and Singapore.
The survey saw an overall fall in global scam encounters, with 59 per cent of consumers found to have been targeted by a tech support scammer in the last 12 months, a drop from 64 per cent in 2018.
At the same time, 16 per cent of consumers were then tricked into continuing with the scam once targeted, a three-point decrease from 2018.
The global fall in scam exposure rates between 2018 to 2021 was largely driven by a reduction in scams involving pop-ups as well as those with redirects to websites, Microsoft noted.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, however, Microsoft’s research found that people in the Gen Z age category (aged 18-23) and Millennials (aged 24-37) were most likely to continue interactions when targeted with tech support scams – 23 per cent of individuals in both age groups.
According to Microsoft's figures, 11 per cent of Millenials surveyed indicated they had continued with a scam but didn't lose money, while 12 per cent did. For those in the Gen Z category, 12 per cent continued with a scam but didn't lose money, while 11 per cent did lose money.
Globally, at least one out of 10 Millennials and one out of 10 Gen Zers that encountered a scam fell for it and lost money, according to Microsoft’s research.
By comparison, of those in the Gen X category (aged 38-53) who were surveyed, nine per cent continued with a scam without losing money, while six per cent lost money. Among boomers (aged 54 and over), just seven per cent continued with a scam without losing money, while two per cent lost money.
The vendor said this rate is correlated to the higher engagement that younger people have with riskier online activities, such as using torrent sites (16 per cent for Gen Z and 15 per cent for Millennials) and sharing email addresses in exchange for content (30 per cent for Gen Z and 28 per cent for Millennials).
Unsurprisingly, males were identified to be the hardest hit and most likely to have lost money as a result of such scams. Indeed, 20 per cent of males globally continued with such tech support scams in 2021, with half of them losing money as a result.
By comparison, 13 per cent of females globally continued with such tech support scams, with about one in three losing money in the interaction.
Across the countries in APAC that were surveyed, results were diverse, likely due to the broad spectrum of mature and immature markets across the region.
According to Microsoft, consumers in India were three times more likely to continue with a scam interaction, at 49 per cent, than the global average, which was 16 per cent.
Consumers in Japan, however, performed best globally, with only 5 per cent of those surveyed proceeding to interact with a scammer. This rate in Australia was Australia 19 per cent, while in Singapore it was 14 per cent, both on par with the rest of the global average rate.
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, the vendor noted.
Among those who continued with a scam, the most common issue experienced globally during the interaction was computer problems, followed by compromised passwords and fraudulent use of payment cards.
“Tech support scams are perpetrated globally and target people of all ages,” said Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel and regional lead at the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit for Asia. “While we do see progress made in the percentage of people who declined to engage with the scammers, there is continued need to monitor and address how the attacks are evolving.
“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.
“Across the diverse region of Asia Pacific, we are seeing attack rates vary according to demographics and habits – yet tech support scams continue to affect all countries. We are committed to online safety and hope these survey findings will help to better educate people so they can avoid becoming victims of these scams,” she added.
In a 2018 report by Microsoft, Singapore stood out as being among the most savvy countries when it came to dealing with such scams, behind Japan, China and Germany.
“While consumers in Singapore have shown that they are increasingly more knowledgeable about tech support scams, it is important to note that tech support scam methods will continue to evolve,” noted Richard Koh, chief technology officer of Microsoft Singapore, at the time.
That report also indicated that despite being a relatively tech savvy generation, Millennials between the ages of 24 and 37 were discovered to be the most prone to tech support scams, followed by Gen X, Gen Z and baby boomers.