More than half of all Aussies continue to encounter forms of cyber scams in 2021

Research from Microsoft said Australians who continue to interact with a scammer lose about AU$126 on average.

Within the Asia Pacific, Australians are second most likely to fall victim to a tech support cyber scam, according to new findings from Microsoft. Leading the way is India which recorded 69% of people encountered a tech support scam.

The 2021 Global Tech Scam Research report [PDF] showed that in the past 12 months, 68% of Australians encountered some form of tech support scam. While it was a two-point decrease from 2018, it was still higher than the global average which came in at 59%, five points lower than in 2018.

Of those Australians who encountered a scam in 2021, 9% lost money as a result, a three percentage point increase on 2018, and slightly higher than the global average of 7%. The amount lost by those who continued interacting with such scammers was about AU$126 on average.

According to the research, the slight drop in scam encounters in Australia between 2018 and 2021 was largely driven by a decrease in pop-up ads and website redirect scams that accounted for 39% and 34% of scam interactions in 2021 respectively.

On the flipside, unsolicited calls and unsolicited emails received by Australian customers increased to 46% and 41% respectively in 2021.

When breaking down the type of scams and interaction by generation, Australian boomers, those who are aged 54-plus, were the most susceptible to unsolicited calls at 55%. Meanwhile, for millennials, aged 24-37, just under half fell for an unsolicited email.  

Australian consumers continued to be distrustful of unsolicited contact, the survey indicated, noting 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.

"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," Microsoft Asia digital crimes unit regional lead assistant general counsel Mary Jo Schrade 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."

The report also showed that between 2018 and 2021, India recorded the biggest jump globally when it came to the number of people who lost money consistently. In 2018, it was 14% and this skyrocketed to 31% in 2021.

This correlated closely with India, alongside Singapore, experiencing the largest jump in phone scams globally between the three-year period. India saw it increase by eight percentage points to 31%, while Singapore more than doubled to 34%. Despite these increases, Australia still experienced the most unsolicited calls globally in 2021 at 46%.

Within the Asia Pacific, tech support scams that targeted Japan remained low at 29%, a decrease from the 36% in 2018. Of those scams that did occur, 24% were ignored. But where there was interaction, Gen Z, aged 18-23, was the generation that was most likely to engage with a scam that came from a pop-up ad or window.

"Tech support scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about these scams and can avoid them," Schrade said.

"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."

Other findings from the report included those who lost money to scams engaged more in risky activities, such as using torrent sites, downloading music and videos, and sharing email addresses in exchange for content. These same people also displayed overconfidence in their computer literacy. 

At the same time, consumer protection agencies and government regulators are seen to have the biggest responsibility to protect consumers against scams. 

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