Wait. Did I read the title right? Millennials – the tech-savvy generation – is more likely to fall prey to scams than seniors? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. A Microsoft-NCSA (National Cyber Security Alliance) study shows that two out of three customers have fallen prey to IT support scams in the last 12 months. And the finding also shows that 50% of all tech support scam victims were 18-34 year-olds. Grown-ups in the age group 36-54 accounted for 34% and 55+ year-olds accounted for a mere 17%.

image source: security intelligence
image source: security intelligence

The survey was conducted in 12 countries and targeted about 1000 people. The survey covered everything about IT support scams. IT support scams have always been there but are increasingly becoming a cause for concern in the last 1 year or so. The way IT support scams work is pretty much straightforward – the attackers call people at home and associate themselves as the member of IT support team at a reputable company. They then convince into believing that your computer is actually infected with malware which poses the serious risk to your personal and confidential information. Once you are convinced, they offer you free services for fixing the security threat. They then request you to give remote control access to them. Once you give them the access, they have complete control of your device. From then on, they may install malware or copy your personal and confidential information and bribe you with a huge ransom.

Michael Kaiser, Executive Director at NCSA says – “Some [fraudsters] try to get into people’s computers by using remote access. If that computer is connected to the office or has business information, or access to credentials that could get someone into a business computer, that could be a pretty big risk for the enterprise.”

But what’s surprising about the finding is that the tech savvy generation actually accounts for about 50% of the victims. “A lot of times we think of these scams as targeting older people, but there were a lot of millennials who responded to this scam”, Kaiser adds. Millennials are more likely to fall prey to fraud calls. One of the reasons could be that the current generation depends heavily on their devices and are more likely to be convinced when they are told that the malware on their device will likely result in data theft. Courtney Gregoire, Senior Attorney in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit explains why millennials are becoming easy targets – “We think [the rise] is correlated to the shift in these fraudsters using more pop-up email and website misdirection online. Fraudsters are trying to convince victims something is wrong when nothing is, in fact, wrong. At their core, they’re using social engineering.”

The methods that fraudsters use are also becoming more sophisticated and this could also be one of the reasons why seniors don’t fall prey too often. Web advertisements, e-mail links, pop-ups is something that’s very easy for millennials to relate to while 55+ year-olds may find it hard to understand. But it’s quite sad that millennials don’t exercise caution when clicking on malicious e-mail links, pop-ups and ads.

The Other Perspective

Now, for the other perspective. Although the survey claims that over 50% of the victims belong to the age group 18-34, the survey of 1000 people may not actually be representative of the group as a whole. The data could be skewed or biased because it’s not clear if the survey targeted an even distribution of millennials, grown-ups, and seniors. Also, the chances that 55+ year-olds use smart devices at the same frequency as millennials are almost nil. Since millennials these days are hooked to devices 24×7, the probability that they fall prey to scams is high. There have also been cases where old people blindly gave away passwords when asked, not knowing the consequences. But when it comes to passwords, millennials are more educated and would refrain from giving away their passwords to total strangers.  So in that sense, the survey may not be representative of the whole group of millennials and may be skewed.

Moral of the Story

Whether or not millennials are easier targets than seniors may still be debatable but the survey does convey something really important – that an alarming percentage of the population is falling prey to fraudulent IT support scams and that it’s high time enterprises begin to take action against people falsely representing their company. And above all, prevention is better than cure. Exercising caution can save a lot of trouble.


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