If you received a phone call from someone posing as a computer technician, telling you that your computer had a virus and they could clean it up for you — free of charge — would you hang up immediately or hear them out?
A recent Microsoft survey founds that despite the best efforts of security experts to warn computer users about phony tech support scams, in which criminals deceive victims into believing they have a computer problem that needs to be resolved, people are still falling for these tricks, losing money and personal information as a result.
In a survey of 7,000 computer users in the U.S., U.K, Ireland and Canada, Microsoft found that 15 percent of respondents (1,050) have received phone calls from people saying they are providing "free security checks."
Of those 1,050 people, the survey found that 22 percent of people (231) actually fell for the phone scammers' ploys and followed their instructions, a mistake that allowed the criminals to, in some cases, gain remote access to their computers, download malicious software or get victims' credit card numbers.
Of those who were deceived by the fake tech support calls, the survey showed that 79 percent said they suffered financial loss; 17 percent said they had money drained from their bank accounts; 19 percent said their passwords had been compromised; and 17 percent were victims of identity fraud.
The average amount of money stolen was $875 per person.
Adding insult to injury, more than half of those who'd been scammed said they suffered subsequent computer problems.
"Criminals have proved once again that their ability to innovate new scams is matched by their ruthless pursuit of our money," said Richard Saunders, director of international public and analyst relations at Microsoft.
To avoid scams like these, Microsoft said to "be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company," and never provide personal information, especially bank details, to an unsolicited caller.