India: A Paradise For Tech Support Scammers

Tech support scams are increasing in India and Indians losing more money each year. How did we get here?

Scams have existed around the world for decades. Despite having access to resources about these kinds of things, people still get scammed, and new kinds of scams are popping up everywhere now. From credit card scams to crypto scams, people of various age groups are targeted by fraudsters every day. One such notorious scam, for which a lot of people fall prey to, is a tech support scam.

A report by cybersecurity firm Avast Threat Labs explains how these scams work, mentioned in Businessline: Firstly, attackers convince their victims that their device has been affected by malware, and it needs to be fixed. This is done via a window that pops up, which tells the individual about this malware and the only way that it can be fixed is by calling a phone hotline for technical support.

Once the scammer connects via a call, they try to convince the victim to set up a remote connection to their computer and, at times, download a second remote management software without the user knowing, to keep up a constant connection to the victim’s PC. Once the scammer gains access, they can also install malware, or other harmful programmes. This malware can damage the data on the devices or worse, they can steal personal information.

Scammers can also use this data to gain entry into financial accounts, health records, or other essential services. Sometimes, fraudsters even create web pages that look like antivirus or firewall software warnings or even set up fake companies to validate their fraud. These scams are well-thought-out and carefully planned; they are also carried out in a sophisticated manner, which is why so many victims fall for it and Indians get hit the hardest.

Scam In Numbers

This is a problem that needs to get more attention because the scams are increasing. Microsoft’s global survey, called Global Tech Support Scam Research, has found that India saw a relatively high scam encounter rate of 69% in 2021, which is similar to the 70% rate experience in 2018.

Source: Microsoft

Almost half the consumers surveyed in India (48%) were tricked into continuing with the scam, which is an eight-point jump from 2018. It is also three times higher than the global average (16%). The survey also showed that one in three (31%) of those who surveyed continued engaging and eventually lost money. This is a rise of 17 points as compared with 2018.

The report by Avast said that cybersecurity researchers have detected and blocked over 2 lakh tech support scam attacks in India in the first quarter this year. Alexej Savcin, Senior Malware Analyst, Avast, said, as mentioned by Businessline, “Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Criminals exploit victims through money or personal information.”

Targets & Modes

If we take a look at who falls prey to these scams, the answer will surprise you. The survey showed that, in India, millennials (aged 24–37) were the most vulnerable to such scams in 2021, with 58% of them being the most likely to lose money, followed by Gen Zers (24%).

The survey also showed that one out of 10 millennials and one out of 10 Gen Zers that came across a scam fell for it and lost money. The survey also found that men are affected the most by these scams, and they are also most likely to have lost money in them.

The below chart shows the most common methods, in which people lose money.

To Catch A Scammer

The Indian police have been cracking down on fake international call centres for a while now. In June 2021, Delhi Police arrested seven people for allegedly scamming foreigners on the pretext of providing technical assistance by impersonating the technical support staff of a multinational company. In the same month, three call centres were busted in Gurugram and since January 2021, eight such call centres have been raided in Gurugram and two in Faridabad.

Earlier in March, the police arrested 34 people in West Delhi for allegedly posing as authorised representatives of tech firms such as Apple and scamming foreign nationals like the above case. Also, in 2020, the Delhi Police arrested 17 people for allegedly running a fake call centre duping foreign nationals in the name of Microsoft technical support. In October 2019, the cyber crime unit of Kolkata Police raided and shut down two call centres in the city.

In The End

Scams are on the rise and Indians are in need of education about this urgently. The research has showed that, just because millennials and Gen Zers are tech-savvy, doesn’t mean they will not fall for these types of scams. In fact, it is the opposite. Since millennials and Gen Zers are more engaged online, they are more exposed to these kinds of scams.

Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel, regional lead, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit Asia said, “… 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.” The pandemic has also led to a jump in the number of scams as more people are working from home globally, mostly sharing computers with their children who are attending online classes.

So, one thing that is clear is there is a lack of awareness about tech support scams in India. These fraudsters try to elicit fear in people’s minds, and they succeed in that because they target vulnerable people. So, it is time the government takes stringent action against these fake call centres and educates people how these scams work and how they should protect themselves. And we should always be aware of these calls and never allow these so-called tech support callers from gaining remote access to our computers.

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