August 1, 2021

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Why Indians lose most money in tech scams

NEW DELHI: India-based fake call centres have mushroomed in a big way to defraud people across the globe. In Microsoft‘s new findings of its 2021 survey, India is seen as the hub of such call centre talent being put to criminal use.
The survey, comprising 16 nations and 16,254 adult internet users, found that seven out of 10 in India encountered tech support scams in the past year. As many as 31% of those who continued with scam interactions lost money in 2021, an 17-point increase from 2018. Millennials and men were most susceptible to losing money from scams, says the survey.
Alarming situation:
* In October 2019, the cyber crime unit of Kolkata Police raided and shut down two call centres in the city.
* In November 2018, Delhi Police arrested 63 in a crackdown on fake call centres.
* In June 2021, three call centres were busted in Gurugram and since January 2021, eight such call centres have been raided in Gurugram and two in Faridabad.
* In July 2021, a fake call centre was busted in Motinagar in Delhi where the employees were duping US citizens posing as Microsoft representatives.
The modus operandi is simple. Users are contacted posing as executives of a tech major, such as Microsoft or Google. They create a fear psychosis or convince the user to install a software thereby getting “remote access” to their devices. Once done, the fraudsters drain the victim’s money.
Microsoft’s global survey – Global Tech Support Scam Research – that looks at tech support scams and their impact on consumers showed that India experienced a relatively high scam encounter rate of 69% in 2021, similar to the 70% rate experienced in 2018. In contrast, there was an overall five-point drop in scam encounters globally over the same period, with a rate of 59% in 2021.
Scam graph climbs
Almost half the consumers surveyed in India (48%) were tricked into continuing with the scam – an eight-point increase from 2018, and three times higher than the global average (16%). One in three (31%) of those surveyed continued engaging and eventually lost money, an increase of 17 points as compared with 2018.
In India, millennials (aged 24-37) were the most susceptible to such scams in 2021, with 58% of those that continued with the scam incurring monetary loss. As much as 73% men in India who proceeded to interact with a scammer were likely to lose money, the survey said. Every month, Microsoft receives around 6,500 complaints globally from people who have been the victims of tech support scams. This is down from 13,000 reports in an average month in prior years.
How fraud has spread
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 this survey in 16 countries, including the four Asia Pacific markets of India, Australia, Japan and Singapore. “Tech support scams are perpetrated globally and target people of all ages. Findings reveal that compared to the rest of the world, consumers in India are more likely to be targeted, less inclined to ignore scam interactions, and as a result, lose more money. There is an urgent need for consumers to do more and do better at protecting themselves from such scams, Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel, regional lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia, said.
“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 to leverage the survey findings to better educate people to help them avoid becoming victims of these scams,” she added.
India consumers
As per the study, consumers in India were much more likely to continue with scams, regardless of type, as compared with global figures. Incidences of unsolicited call scams increased from 23% to 31% in India between 2018 to 2021. This continues to be the scam type that consumers in India respond to most often, with almost half (45%) of those surveyed continuing and taking recommended actions from the scammer. In contrast, global scam encounter rates for unsolicited calls fell two points during the same period, from 27% in 2018 to 25% in 2021.
While scams involving pop-up ads (51%), redirects to websites (48%), or unsolicited emails (42%) fell 5%, 1%, and 2% respectively in 2021 compared with 2018, consumers in India were 11%, 16%, and 7% more likely to continue engaging with such scams over the same period, respectively.
Consumers in India who lost money to such scams in 2021 lost Rs 15,334 on average. However, 88% of those who lost any money were able to recover some back, with the average being Rs 10,797.
The most common methods of payment for those who lost any money were through bank transfers (43%), followed by gift cards (38%), Paypal (32%), credit cards (32%), and Bitcoin (25%). As high as 77% consumers in India who continued with scam interactions and lost money in 2021 reported experiencing severe or moderate levels of stress, 8% higher than the global average of 69%.
82% of those who continued with any computer-related scam in 2021 proceeded to spend time checking or repairing their computers, slightly higher than the global average of 76%. It is crucial to carry out checks, as some scammers are known to install malware on computers, allowing them to maintain remote access to people’s computers long after the victims believed the interaction was terminated.
Millennials in India who continue with a scam were most likely to lose money (58%) across all age groups, followed by Gen Zers (24%). Men were also identified to be the hardest hit and most likely to have lost money because of such scams. 73% men in India who continued with such tech support scams in 2021 lost money in the interaction, in contrast with 27% women. “Millennials are more engaged online, so they would likely have more exposure to scammers. The survey results showed that millennials are more likely to visit riskier websites, such as torrent sites or places where they download music or movies,” Jo Schrade said.
Why are Indians vulnerable?
The high rate of victimisation to such scams is likely due to consumers in India being more trusting of unsolicited contact and more inclined to believe that a company would initiate contact.
Of those surveyed in 2021, 47% thought that it was very or somewhat likely that a company would contact them via an unsolicited call, pop-up, text message, ad or email, and this is a 15-point increase from 2018 (32%). Consumers across India also rated their computer experience highly, regardless of age group, and this suggests over-confidence in computer literacy skills.
“Tech support scams will remain an industrywide challenge until sufficient people are educated about these scams and can avoid them. The best way consumers in India and Asia Pacific can protect themselves is to learn that 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,” Jo Schrade said.
Impact of pandemic
Has the Covid pandemic helped in spike in scams in India? “Yes it has. People are working from home around the world, perhaps sharing computers with their children who are doing school work. This increases vulnerabilities, especially if risky behavior like accessing torrent sites is being done on a computer someone uses for work purposes,” Jo Schrade said.
However, she added, scammers target any place where they can make money, so educating people to help them avoid being victims of scammers, is critical.

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