Have you been contacted by Microsoft technical support lately?
Let me answer the question for you: no, you haven’t. However, many people believe they have been, thanks to a scam that won’t seem to go away.
Microsoft has a standing policy on technical support that we all need to remember:
Microsoft will never initiate technical support communications with customers, whether it's a call, email, or online message.
You must reach out to Microsoft in order to receive technical support.
If you’ve ever been contacted by “Microsoft,” chances are you’ve interacted with a cybercriminal with malicious intent.
Microsoft technical support scams have been happening so frequently that Microsoft actually conducted a global survey to learn more about them. The tech scam survey results offered interesting insights into who is falling for these scams and how often they occur.
When you interact with a phony tech support chat, their goal is to trick you into giving them remote access to your computer. Remote access gives the person full control over your computer. Someone with remote access can control your mouse in real time and can access anything stored on your computer. While it may seem like a red flag to give a stranger control over your computer, the request would seem quite normal in a true technical support chat.
Granting remote access to a cybercriminal can cause any number of problems depending on how much pain the criminal wants to inflict. For example, the scammer could install malware, steal personal and financial information, turn off your antivirus software, or even leave software on your machine that allows them to access the computer well after the "support session" has ended.
Who’s Most Vulnerable?
Microsoft’s survey had some surprising results. For example, the findings on what age group has been most frequently falling for the scams isn’t what you’d expect.
Surprisingly, people ages 18 to 34 are the most likely to fall for tech support scams; globally, half of millennials who are contacted by scammers continue on with their interactions. While tech support scams have usually targeted the elderly with cold calls, a new method using fake pop-up ads that pretend to be support chat windows seem to be fooling the younger generation.
For comparison, Microsoft’s survey revealed that, of people ages 45 to 54 who were contacted by scammers, just 14% continued on with the interaction.
In addition to uncovering the age of scam victims, Microsoft’s survey contained other interesting data. One fact that stood out was that globally, 2 out of 3 people have experienced a tech support scam in the past year. That means more likely than not, you’ve dealt with one of these support scams - whether you knew it or not. Unfortunately, people haven’t been as quick to notice this type of fraud as we would hope.
Staysafeonline.org highlights further findings in the survey:
1 in 5 consumers surveyed continued with a potentially fraudulent interaction after first being contacted, meaning they downloaded software, visited a scam website, gave the fraudsters remote access to their device or provided credit card information or other form of payment.
Nearly 1 in 10 have lost money to a tech support scam.
Of those who continued with a fraudulent interaction, 17 percent of them were older than 55, while 34 percent were between the ages of 36 and 54.
Surprisingly, 50 percent of those who continued were millennials between the ages of 18 and 34.
Consumers in India (54%), China (35%) and the United States (33%) had a greater likelihood of continuing with the fraudulent interaction.
The most common victim experience with tech support scams is through software downloads or visits to malicious websites.
In the United States, 55 percent of those who continued with a scam, lost money.
92 percent of those who lost money in the United States said they have recovered at least some of their money. Fifty-eight percent in China and 67 percent in India have also recovered at least some of the money.
Microsoft’s findings are certainly troubling. With so many people falling for support scams, Microsoft’s policy needs to be more widespread: If you are ever contacted by a person purporting to be with Microsoft, remember that their tech support only interacts with people who have contacted them. They’ll never contact you first. Make sure your employees know this to prevent a lot of trouble down the road. If you believe you may have been a victim of a tech support scam, reach out to your IT support team immediately.
Have you been contacted by a phony Microsoft rep? Share your experience in the comments below.