Microsoft: Generation Z vs. Technical Support Scams

Common wisdom says, and you’d hope so, that each succeeding generation is smarter, more skilled and savvy than their predecessors about most things online.

It turns out, however, based on a new Microsoft study, that Generation Z, young people born between 1995 and 2015 numbering some 74 million in the U.S., are among the most susceptible to online scams, particularly the technical support ruse. Add in millennials and males and you have the most likely victims of technical support swindles, according to Microsoft’s new Global Tech Support Scam Research. The web-based survey of 16,048 adult internet users in 16 countries, equally divided between males and females, updates an earlier report from 2016.

Overall, the research suggests that both education and technology can play a role in reducing consumers’ vulnerability to tech support scams. Older folks, the study found, are not the easy pickings digital fraudsters covet. Younger people are more susceptible to technical support scams primarily for three primary reasons:

  • Millennials and Gen Z engage in more risky online activities than older generations, such as exchanging email for access to content, downloading movies, music, videos or using torrent sites.
  • The youngest generations rated themselves highest on web and computer expertise, suggesting overconfidence in their online abilities.
  • Millennials and Gen Z were found to be more trusting than older generations of reputable companies making unsolicited contact.

Here’s some of the study’s top level findings:

  • About six-in-ten consumers experienced a tech support scam, down five points since 2016, driven by a decline in the most common type of tech support scam -- pop-up ads/windows (49%).
  • Scammers most often tricked consumers into downloading software (44%) or directing them to a specific website (34%).
  • Fewer consumers reported losing money directly as a result of the tech support scam -- 6% vs. 9% in 2016. An additional 8% of consumers who didn't directly lose money to scams spent time and money checking and repairing their PCs.
  • 76% of consumers who encountered tech support scams said they suffered moderate to severe stress from the scam.
  • 75% of consumers believed it highly unlikely that a reputable company would initiate unsolicited contact. 83% would distrust that type of communication, up 12 and 17-points respectively.
  • Only 41% of consumers who experienced a tech support scam would trust companies not to sell them unnecessary support or repair services.
  • Over seven-in-ten consumers who experienced scams lost trust in software and technology companies' ability to protect them from tech support scams.
  • In response to a hypothetical unsolicited contact, 38% reported they would try to block the company from contacting them while 33% would spent time researching the problem.
  • Search engines (46%) and company websites (31%) were used most often to learn and get help with tech support scams.
  • Telephone tech support scams were the one area experienced more by older consumers than by younger internet users.

The research concluded that a 12-point drop in scammers asking for social security numbers (or their international equivalents) reflects the importance of awareness building and education. In addition, increased adoption of ad-blocking technology in recent years potentially contributed to a significant decline in pop-up ads/windows scams.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.