Australians most likely to fall victim to cyber scam, second only to India: Microsoft survey

  • 68% of Australian consumers encountered a tech support scam over the past 12 months – nine points more than the global average of 59%.
  • One in four Australians who engaged with cyber criminals had money taken directly from their bank accounts.
  • Around one in three Millennials (aged 24-37) and Gen Xers (aged 38-53) who encountered such scams continued interacting with the scammer, while two in three males were likely to do the same.’

  • AUSTRALIA – JULY 23, 2021 – Microsoft today released findings of its 2021 Global Tech Support Scam Research report that looks at tech support scams and their impact on consumers. The new findings reveal Australians are among those most likely to fall victim to tech support fraud, second only to India in Asia Pacific, with 24% of those who engaged with cyber criminals reporting that they had unauthorised money transfers from their bank accounts after engaging with the scammers.

    Over the past 12 months, 68% of Australians surveyed encountered a scam – just a two-point decrease from 2018. Globally, consumers reported a more drastic drop from 64% in 2018 to 59% in 2021. Of Australians who continued with a scam interaction in 2021 (19%), about one in 10 of them (9%) lost money as a result – a three-point increase from 2018 (6%). This is slightly higher than the global average, where 17% of those surveyed continued with a scam and 7% lost money as a result.

    Australian Millennials (aged 24-37) and Gen Xers (aged 38-53) were the most susceptible to such scams, where 31% and 30% respectively continued with a scam; the likelihood of Gen Zers (aged 18-23) continuing with such a scam was significantly lower at 16%. In contrast, globally, Gen Zers and Millennials were found to have continued interactions most when targeted with scams – 23% for both age groups. Males in Australia were also more likely to engage with such scams (61%), which was significantly higher than the global average of 20%.

    Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints globally from people who have been the victim of a tech support scam; this is down from 13,000 reports in an average month in prior years. To better understand how the problem with tech support scams is evolving globally and to enhance efforts to educate consumers on how to stay safe online, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for this global survey in 16 countries, including four Asia Pacific markets – Australia, India, Japan and Singapore. This is a follow-up to similar surveys that Microsoft fielded in 2018 and 2016.

    Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel, Regional Lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia, said: “Tech support scams are perpetrated globally and target people of all ages. The survey findings reveal that Australians are experiencing higher-than-average tech support scam encounters when compared globally, showing that consumers need to understand how these scammers work to better enable them to protect themselves from scams. Tactics used by fraudsters to victimise users online have evolved over time, from pure cold calling to more sophisticated ploys, such as fake “pop-ups” displayed on people’s computers. We are committed to online safety and hope these survey findings will help better educate people so they can avoid becoming victims of these scams.”

    Fewer exposed to scams; unsolicited contact remains largely untrusted

    The slight drop in scam encounters in Australia between 2018 to 2021 (from 70% to 68%) seems to have been largely driven by the decrease in pop-up ads and website redirect scams. Scams involving pop-ups dropped the most by four points to 39% and redirects to websites also decreased two points to 34% during the same period. However, unsolicited calls and unsolicited emails received by Australian customers increase by one point to 46% and 41% respectively in 2021.

    Australian consumers continue to be distrustful of unsolicited contact. Of those surveyed in 2021, 88% thought that it was very or somewhat unlikely a company would contact them via an unsolicited call, pop-up, text message, ad or email.

    More lost money to scams; fewer experienced stress

    While the proportion of Australian consumers who continued with such scams stayed relatively stable (19% in 2021; 18% in 2018), more lost money as a result of these scams (9% in 2021; 6% in 2018). The amount lost by those who continued interacting with such scammers was about A$126 on average.

    Of Australian consumers who continued with scam interactions and lost money, 68% experienced less severe or moderate levels of stress in 2021 – compared with 74% in 2018; this is one-point lower than the global average of 69% in 2021 – compared with 78% in 2018.

    Millennials, Gen X and males most likely to fall victim to scams

    In Australia, one in three Millennials were most likely to continue with a scam (31%), followed by Gen Xers (30%). Males (61%) in Australia were also most likely to have continued with such scams in 2021 as compared with females surveyed (39%).

    Interestingly, Gen Zers targeted in Australia were least likely to continue interacting with scammers (16%) when compared to all of the other age groups. This is despite them reporting that they engage in riskier online activities, such as using bit torrent sites (19%) and downloading music or video content (33%); such risky online behavior was also seen among Millennials and Gen Xers, where 18% and 13% respectively were likely to use bit torrent sites, and 33% and 25% of them downloaded music or video content online.

    What Microsoft is doing to combat scams

    The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) is working to help combat this issue by partnering with law enforcement, strengthening technology, and educating consumers. Microsoft has been fighting against tech support scams since 2014 and has supported law enforcement officials to take legal action against scammers across the years in Asia, the U.S., and Europe.

    The DCU works to combat tech support scams by (1) investigating tech support fraud networks and referring cases to law enforcement as appropriate, (2) strengthening Microsoft’s products and services to better protect consumers from various fraudulent tactics, and (3) educating consumers about this type of fraud by providing guidance and resources on how to identify, avoid, and report them.

    Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel, Regional Lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia added, “Tech support scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about these scams and can avoid them. The best way consumers in Australia and Asia Pacific can protect themselves is to learn about how these scammers are targeting people, be suspicious of any unsolicited contact from purported tech company employees and avoid letting people they do not know remotely access their computers.”

    Microsoft recommends keeping in mind the following tips should consumers receive a notification or call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or any other reputable company:

    • Be suspicious of pop-up messages on your computer, and do not call the number or click on the link in any pop-ups received.
    • Download software only from official company websites or the Microsoft Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the company’s knowledge to bundle support scam malware and other threats.
    • If you think you may have been the victim of a Tech Support Scam, report your experience at www.microsoft.com/reportascam and also file reports with law enforcement authorities, such as your local consumer protection authority.

    /Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.