New Zealanders are the most likely people in the world to have experienced a tech support scam, according to a new study from Microsoft.
When it comes to “helpdesk” phone calls and fake pop-ups that resemble software notifications, New Zealand leads the world. However, the most frequent victims are not who you might think. Young and male New Zealanders are especially susceptible to losing money from tech support scams, thanks to a tendency towards risky behaviour and overconfidence in their technical abilities.
Among the 16 nationalities surveyed for the 2018 Global Tech Support Scam Research conducted by TRG, New Zealanders reported the highest levels of exposure to tech scams, with more than three-quarters experiencing at least one. Globally, the average is 62 per cent. Kiwis are also far more likely than other nationalities to be exposed to fake pop-up ads and windows posing as notifications from their software provider, as well as scams that redirect unsuspecting victims to websites that mimic real tech company sites in order to trick them into giving away passwords and important details.
Around a fifth (21 per cent) of New Zealanders who had encountered tech support scams were fooled into continuing with an interaction, and just six per cent of those suffered direct financial losses. However, those figures don’t reveal the full story. The research shows that more than a third of those who engaged with a scam ended up incurring costs as a result of spending time or money to repair their systems and ensure they weren’t compromised.
It may come as a surprise that Millennials and males are the most likely to have experienced losses from scams, and that they are also significantly more likely to trust that companies won’t try to sell them unnecessary support services. However, Microsoft New Zealand’s National Technology Officer, Russell Craig, says it’s understandable, if concerning.
“The common stereotype of scam victims is that they are elderly and less experienced with computers and software, but this is a case of a little knowledge leading to overconfidence,” he says.
“Because computer use is skewed towards younger generations and males, who are also more likely to engage in riskier behaviours such as visiting torrent download sites, they are more likely to encounter scams. Greater exposure plus greater confidence using computers makes under 40s and men more susceptible to clever scammers.”
The proportion of Kiwis tricked is surprising given the high level of scepticism among those surveyed. 90 per cent of all Kiwis claim to doubt a reputable company would initiate unsolicited contact, seven per cent higher than the global average.
On the other hand, New Zealand’s incidence of economic loss is exactly on par with the rest of the countries surveyed. Losses from scams have declined three per cent worldwide since the previous survey in 2016, which did not include New Zealand, dropping to six per cent overall. India is still the country with the most reported losses, with 14 per cent of all those who engaged with tech support scams losing money to the scammers – but this is against a whopping 22 per cent who lost out in 2016. The US has also drastically improved, from 21 per cent impacted to just six per cent within two years.
By contrast, previous star performers Denmark and the UK have experienced increased loss rates. Seven per cent of Danes engaging with tech support scams lost money (up from four per cent in 2016) and the UK’s results are now level with New Zealand’s, a marked rise from the two per cent of respondents who’d suffered financial impacts in the previous survey.
Globally, respondents believe that responsibility for addressing tech support scams rests mostly with consumer protection agencies, followed by law enforcement agencies and regulators.
“Our core focus at Netsafe is educating New Zealanders on how to stay safe online, and that includes how to protect yourself against scams,” says Martin Cocker, Netsafe chief executive. “We work closely with the Government and other agencies to help Kiwis avoid harm from unscrupulous activities and advise them of the latest scams, as we all have a role to play in keeping the web safe.”
Given that Windows is the operating system of choice for most of the world, it’s not surprising that Microsoft is by far the tech company most associated with scams. A quarter of all fake pop-ups, nearly a third (31 per cent) of all redirects to counterfeit sites and 21 per cent of all scam emails purport to come from Microsoft support teams.
“We believe it’s our responsibility to take the lead on combating tech scams and we’re always working to improve security and detection of cyber threats so these never reach your computer,” Craig says.
“However, these results reinforce the need for all of us to be extra cautious when it comes to giving information to strangers. If in doubt, hover over a link before clicking to check the URL and remember that Microsoft tech support teams will never contact customers directly.”
Key Global Tech Support Scam Research takeaways:
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