SINGAPORE – More and more people here have been targeted by crooks claiming to help them with tech support issues, with police receiving twice as many reports of such tricks last year amid an increase in scams in line powered by Covid-19.
This is according to the conclusions of a new study published Friday, September 17 by the American software giant Microsoft.
The study showed that 62% of people here experienced a tech support scam, up from 58% when a similar study was last conducted in 2018.
This year’s result is also slightly above the global average of 59%.
Of the people here who encountered a tech support scam, nearly half – or 49% – ignored it this year, up from 44% in 2018.
In such scams, crooks often pretend to be from reputable companies and lie to victims that their electronic devices have been infected with a virus or have security or network issues that the scammer can fix.
Scammers communicate the lies by making cold phone calls, sending unsolicited emails, placing contextual online ads on websites, and redirecting people to other websites with bogus information.
They also use tricks to scare victims into believing that something is wrong with their devices, like playing loud sirens in pop-up messages or executing commands that display a string of data and claim to have found many viruses on it. the victim’s computer.
“It’s about using psychological tactics to put people in a mode where they don’t think rationally,” said Mary Jo Schrade, deputy general counsel and regional head of Microsoft’s digital crimes unit. in Asia.
Microsoft had tasked market research firm YouGov to survey around 1,000 people – 18 and over – here in May on such scams. People from fifteen other countries were also interviewed, including the United States, Great Britain, India and Japan.
The survey found that 34% of those surveyed here received a fraudulent unsolicited tech support call in the 12 months leading up to May, nearly double the figure for 2018.
However, respondents were also found to be protected from scams.
For example, 91 percent said it was very or unlikely that a business would contact them through an unsolicited call, pop-up, text, announcement, or email. an email. That’s more than the 84 percent of 2018.
The study also showed that the proportion of those who continued to interact with scammers this year was 14%, similar to the 15% in 2018.
The proportion of people who lost money to tech support scams was 5% this year, also similar to 4% in 2018. The average amount lost this year was $ 114.
People between the ages of 24 and 53 – millennials and millennials – were also found to be more likely to continue to interact with scammers, for example by contacting scammers, than people of other age groups.
Microsoft believes that this could be in part because they are more engaged in online activities, including risky activities such as visiting torrent sites that are often used to download pirated content.
People in this age range were also found to be less confident in their computer skills than younger respondents, the company added.
Microsoft’s findings coincide to some extent with police data.
Last year, 506 cases involving tech support scams were reported to police, more than double the 249 cases in 2019.
The amount stolen from victims last year was around $ 22.3 million, up 59% from $ 14 million in 2019.
The largest amount cheated in a tech support scam reported last year was $ 1.1 million.
Police said in February there was a significant increase in online scams as Singaporeans transact more online due to Covid-19.
Microsoft said on Friday that con artists likely took advantage of people’s fears and insecurities during the pandemic, such as concerns about jobs, the food supply and vaccination issues.
Some crooks created fake documents by leveraging these fears, such as updates on employment issues, and sent them to victims via email or links.
Once the victims opened such documents, the malware inside would also be downloaded and could, among other things, cause pop-ups to appear to trick victims into contacting crooks to ‘fix’ bogus technical issues or even to steal personal information of victims.
Microsoft added that it is crucial for users to perform checks on their devices after being the victims of a tech support scam.
This is because some crooks install malware on computers that allows them to maintain remote access to people’s devices long after victims think their scam is over.
Consumers can protect themselves by taking actions such as being wary of pop-up messages on their devices and not calling the numbers listed or clicking links in any pop-up windows they receive.
They should download software only from official sources and be wary of downloading software from third party sites.
And if a business requests payment in cryptocurrencies or gift cards to fix a suspected tech glitch, it may just be a scam because legitimate businesses don’t.