7 out of 10 Indian internet users targeted by tech support scams: Microsoft surv

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Indian consumers are increasingly falling prey to tech support scams, even as the intensity of such scams declines overseas. Seven out of every 10 Indian consumers were targeted by such scams, according to a new survey conducted by Microsoft. On 5 July, security firm Avast said it detected and blocked over 200,000 tech support scams in India in the first quarter of 2021 alone.

Tech support scams involve unsolicited cold calls or emails, and pop-up ads on websites, which coax users into downloading malware, or being scammed into paying for fraudulent services. One of the most common example of these scams are where a pop-up ad on a website claims that there’s something wrong with a computer, asking users to download a software that will fix the issue.

According to Microsoft’s report, India had the biggest increase in instances of such scams since 2018, when the survey was last conducted. Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel, regional lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, Asia, said scammers may have turned their focus towards India amid a rise in digitization and work from home.

Further, Indians were more than three times as likely to fall victim to such scams as other nationals surveyed, according to the report. In the 2018 version, it found that only 14% of the targeted individuals had fallen prey to such scams, a number that grew to 31% this year. Unsolicited calls are the most common method of attack in the country.

Interestingly, while such scams have traditionally targeted older individuals, who are seen as the most likely victims, Microsoft found that millennials (aged between 24-37) were the “most susceptible” to such scams this year, and 73% of the victims were male. Of those who entertained the scammers, 35% lost between 1 and 7,500, while 22% lost between 7,501 and 37,500, and 8% lost even more. The rest did not lose any money.

The most common method of payment in such scams was bank transfers, which were used 43% of the time, while gift cards, PayPal, credit cards and Bitcoin were also used. A total of 88% of individuals who were duped into paying were able to recover at least some of their money, but Schrade noted that such scams could also allow scammers to install malware on devices.

Microsoft said it receives about 6,500 complaints of such scams globally every month, down from a global average of 13,000 reports per month “in prior years”.

“We urgently need to bring tech support fraud into the public awareness; they should be part of educational conversations about the internet in families and among friends. People need to talk about tech support fraud to their grandparents, parents, friends and children,” said Alexej Savcin, senior malware analyst at Avast.

On the bright side, security experts say it’s pretty easy to protect yourself from such scams, by using pop-up blockers on web browsers, not clicking on unsolicited emails and never making a payment for something that sounds even remotely fishy.

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