Microsoft has released a new global survey providing insights into the state of tech support scams in 2018 and its impact on consumers worldwide.

The Global Study, by Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, was conducted between 16,048 respondents 16 markets – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States

The survey found that while the incidence of tech support scams has declined compared to 2016, it still poses a threat to consumers globally. The survey found that three in five people have experienced a tech support scam and one in five has lost money to fraudsters globally in the past year.

Tech support scams can occur in various forms. For years, scammers have tricked consumers into handing over control of their computers and personal information by peddling bogus security software and services over the phone. Today, scam artists have adapted to changing technology by finding more sophisticated tactics to target users online via phishing emails, phoney websites, and pop-up windows to gain access to a person’s computer.

In addition to stealing personal and financial information, scammers also install malicious software to extort money from victims for fake tech support that purportedly “fixes” fraudulent computer problems.

According to the survey, fewer consumers in Singapore have encountered a tech support scam in 2018 compared to 2016. 57% of consumers said that they have encountered a tech support scam in the form of an unsolicited call, redirect to a website, unsolicited email or a pop-up ad or window in 2018, a significant decline from the 65% who encountered one in 2016.

While over half of Singaporeans have encountered a tech support scam in the past year, the city-state is ranked among the savviest countries globally when dealing with tech support scams. 43% of Singapore respondents chose not to interact with scammers – the fourth highest percentage globally – behind Japan (65%), China (57%) and Germany (48%).

Additionally, while a minority (15%) continued interacting with scammers after encountering a tech support scam, only 4% of the respondents have lost money as a result of tech support scams in 2018, down from the 7% who lost money as a result of the issue in 2016.

When comparing demographic groups, millennials in Singapore aged between 24 and 37 emerged as the group that is most prone to tech support scams, followed by Gen X (aged 38 to 53), Gen Z (aged 18 to 23) and Baby Boomers (aged 54 and above).

Globally, millennials were also most likely to believe that the unsolicited contact by scammers was normal.

When comparing across gender, male consumers were also found to be more vulnerable to tech support scams, as compared to females.

Among consumers who have lost money as a result of tech support scams, activities that they frequently engage in include sharing email information in exchange for content, downloading movies, music and videos, or visiting torrent sites, highlighting these activities as risky online behaviour that increases exposure to potential scams.

The survey also found that monetary loss was not the only consequence of tech support scams, with its impact extending to one’s mental well-being as well. Half of the Singaporean respondents who continued engaging with scammers ended up spending time checking or repairing their computers, while 81% of Singaporean respondents reported moderate to severe levels of
stress as a result.

In terms of the most common types of tech support scams encountered by Singapore consumers, popup ads and windows emerged tops, ahead of redirect to website, unsolicited emails and unsolicited phone calls.

“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. Always remember that companies like Microsoft will never proactively reach out to consumers to provide unsolicited PC or technical support and do take action to report a scam to the authorities whenever you encounter one. At Microsoft, our Digital Crimes Unit uses a data-driven approach to investigate tech support fraud networks and work with law enforcement to combat them. At the same time, we are always making sure that we continue to strengthen our products and services to better protect consumers from the constantly-evolving nature of fraudulent practices,”
– Richard Koh, Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft Singapore.

With tech support scams continuing to be prevalent, Microsoft recommends the following tips for consumers to protect themselves:

  • Be wary of any unsolicited pop-up message on your device, don’t click on it, and don’t call the number.
  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer of.
  • If you’re ever unsure about whether or not Microsoft is trying to contact you, hang up and contact Microsoft directly at the Microsoft Answer Desk
  • If you think you may have been the victim of a Tech Support Scam, report your experience at www.microsoft.com/reportascam and also file reports with law enforcement authorities, such as your local consumer protection authority.