More tech support scams targeting Singapore consumers: Microsoft

SINGAPORE – More people here have been targeted by scammers claiming to help them with technical support issues, with the police receiving twice as many reports of such ruses last year amid a Covid-19 fuelled rise in online scams.

This is according to findings from a new study released on Friday (Sept 17) by American software giant Microsoft.

The study showed that 62 per cent of people here had an encounter with a tech support scam, up from 58 per cent when a similar study was last done in 2018.

This year’s finding is also slightly higher than the global average of 59 per cent.

In such scams, crooks often pretend to be from reputable companies and lie to victims that their electronic devices have been infected by a virus or have security or network problems that the scammer can fix.

The scammers communicate the lies by making unsolicited phone calls, sending unsolicited e-mails, inserting pop-up online advertisements in websites, and redirecting people to other websites with fake information.

Microsoft had commissioned market research firm YouGov to poll about 1,000 people here in May on such scams. People in fifteen other countries were also polled, including in the United States, Britain, India and Japan.

The survey found that 34 per cent of respondents here got an unsolicited tech support scam call in the 12 months to May, almost double the figure from 2018.

However, respondents were also found to be guarded against the scams.

For instance, 91 per cent said that it was very or somewhat unlikely a company would contact them through an unsolicited call, pop-up window, text message, ad or e-mail. This is higher than 2018’s 84 per cent.

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The study also showed that the proportion of those who continued to interact with scammers this year was 14 per cent, similar to 2018’s 15 per cent.

The proportion of people who lost money from tech support scams was 5 per cent this year, also similar to 2018’s 4 per cent.

The Microsoft findings coincide to an extent with police data.

Last year, 506 cases involving tech support scams were reported to the police, more than double of 2019’s 249 cases.

The amount cheated from victims last year was about $22.3m, up 59 per cent from $14m in 2019.

The largest amount cheated in a reported tech support scam last year was $1.1 million.

The police had said in February that there was a significant increase in online scams as Singaporeans carried out more online transactions due to Covid-19.

Microsoft said on Friday that it is crucial for people to do checks on their devices after encountering a tech support scam.

This is because some scammers are known to install malware on computers, allowing them to maintain remote access to people’s devices long after victims believe their scam encounter is over.

Consumers can protect themselves by taking steps such as being wary of any pop-up messages on their devices and not call any listed numbers or click on any links in the pop-ups they get.

They should download software only from official sources, and beware of downloading software from third-party sites.


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