Microsoft survey reveals emerging Internet scams conducted over phones

A recent Microsoft survey reveals that scammers are turning to traditional telephone landlines for baiting their victims to hand over money, instead of relying solely on phishing emails or fake advertisements on websites. The survey was commissioned by Microsoft as part of their Trustworthy Computing initiative. The results were gathered over the course of last April.

According to the press release, scammers pose as computer security experts and warn people via their home phones of a security threat on their computers. The victims' numbers and names are randomly selected via telephone directories. The scammers, posing as representatives of legitimate companies, claim to offer free security checks. Once the victim consents, they are unknowingly directed to typical scamware that throws up fake threats on a user's computer, and demands payment for removal. Some victims have unknowingly installed remote access software for the scammers' use.

Microsoft surveyed 7000 computer users in the UK, Ireland, US, and Canada. The results were as follows:

  • 15% of those users report receiving a phone call as the one mentioned above.
  • 22% of those users, or 3% of the surveyed 7000 users, followed the instructions given by the scammers.
  • Of those users that were deceived, 79% of these users have had money taken from them. In addition, 19% of them reported stolen passwords, and 17% of those users were victims of identity fraud.
  • The average cost to the affected victims was $875 per victim.
  • The average cost to undo the damage done by the scammers was $1730.

Unlike Internet security suites, nothing can protect consumers in realtime from phishing schemes conducted over phone lines. Thus, Microsoft stresses the importance of educating consumers of being wary of suspicious communications - phone calls, emails, ads, messages - that claim to fix a security problem. Microsoft also warns users to never turn over personal information to unidentified individuals, especially credit card numbers. And finally, good security practices on computers are a must - including regular patches and updated security software.

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