Tech support scams are bigger than ever, according to Microsoft, the company revealing last week that it received over 153,000 reports from customers who were the victims of a tech support scam in 2017, a number that went up 24 percent compared to complaints the OS maker received in 2016.
Around 15 percent of the users who complained to Microsoft admitted to losing money to scammers, on average between $200 and $400.
One Dutch user, in particular, admitted to losing over €89,000 ($108,000) to a tech support scammer in one single event.
FBI saw a similar increase
The numbers grew despite Microsoft’s joint efforts with law enforcement authorities to crack down on tech support scams last year.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) also reported a similar rise in tech support scam complaints last year. The IC3 said it received around 11,000 complaints last year, a 86 percent increase from 2016. The FBI says tech support scammers managed to steal nearly $15 million, in total.
The FBI received a smaller number of complaints because Microsoft has a global userbase, but also because most users don’t report tech support scams to authorities unless they lose money.
Scammers still using same basic techniques
Tech support scammers didn’t do anything special last year to warrant this rise in complaints. Scammers continued to operate using the same ol’ techniques:
⬥ Websites that trap users via popups (browser lockers)
⬥ Websites showing fake antivirus-like “you’re infected” warnings
⬥ Malware that shows fake error messages
⬥ Emails from crooks posing as support staffers from real firms
⬥ Cold calls from crooks posing as support staffers from real firms
But as Microsoft points out, tech support scams not a problem of Windows users only. In recent years, tech support scammers have started targeting Mac and Linux users alike, and have started posing as representatives from all sorts of companies, not just OS makers, such as antivirus makers, internet service providers, telecom firms, and browser vendors. In one brazen case, some crooks even tried posing as the FBI’s IC3 division.
Previous Microsoft research into this topic has shown that tech support scammers have a special interest in targeting the elderly, due to their general lack of computer knowledge.
Nonetheless, a Microsoft survey has shown that more than half of tech support scam victims are millennials, meaning that despite their general lack of computer knowledge, older people are generally better at recognizing a scam.
The problem of tech support scams is an old one, and despite the troves of articles and training materials available online, new users continue to fall victims to such practices, mainly because scammers are constantly tweaking their social engineering trickery.