Tech-support scams: Microsoft reveals that fraudsters are still fooling too many people

More people are wary of unsolicited contact from tech firms but tens of thousands still fall victim.

Tech-support scams probably aren’t vanishing any time soon. But Microsoft’s latest survey on the scourge found some positive news: more consumers today know that tech firms like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft won’t make unsolicited contact.

Microsoft’s 2018 global tech-support scam research found that consumers have “developed a healthy skepticism” about unsolicited contact from tech and software companies.

The scams includes calls, emails, and pop-up ads that purport to be from a well-known tech company claiming to offer a fix for malware or other tech problems.

In 2016 Microsoft’s global tech-support scam research found that 37 percent of respondents said it was likely that tech companies would contact them out of the blue to offer assistance with tech problems. Today, however, 25 percent find it likely the companies would do this.

“Unsolicited contact has become a red flag for consumers that signals a potential scam,” notes Microsoft in the report.

Microsoft says it receives 11,000 complaints per month from people who’ve fallen victim to scammers pretending to be from companies like Microsoft, Dell and Apple.

While more people across all age groups are distrustful of unsolicited contact from tech companies, nearly a third of Millennials and Gen Z youth believe unsolicited contact is normal.

Running a data center today, no matter the business, is an exercise in managing and overcoming complexity. In this report, we’ll look at how a strong foundation in both the cloud and internal data centers is empowering organizations to not only get the most out of their IT infrastructure today, but is also preparing them to be able to better take advantage of new technologies already on their way.

Microsoft also found links between the types of activities young people do online and those who lost money. These activities included sharing email in exchange for content, downloading entertainment, and using torrent sites.

Microsoft’s 2018 research surveyed 16,048 adult internet users in 16 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, and USA.

Another bright spot is that there’s been a three percentage point decline in the number of respondents who report losing money after being confronted with a tech-support scam. Worldwide, the figure fell from nine percent in 2016 to six percent in 2018.

Additionally, the percentage of users who decided against interacting with the scammers rose from 32 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2018, meaning more people are avoiding the scam completely.

And while pop-up ads and windows remained the most common way tech-support scammers reach potential victims, pop-ups have surprisingly been on the decline. Microsoft notes that consumer use of pop-up ad-blockers may have helped here.

The US has seen a dramatic decline in the percentage of people who encountered a tech-support scam and actually lost money, which has fallen from 21 percent in 2016 to just six percent today. Those reporting losses in India also fell from 22 percent to 14 percent.

The percentage who report financial losses in other countries ranged between three and nine percent, though money losses have increased in Denmark, Germany, and the UK.

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Patent filings reveal new details about Microsoft’s vision for a foldable, dual-screen Surface device

(U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Drawing)

A patent application published today adds more fuel to the fire about the possibility of a new hybrid dual-screen Microsoft Surface device that blurs the lines between phone and tablet.

(U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Drawing)

The patent filing is for a “hinged device” with a “first and second portion” that includes a “flexible display.” It would sport a hinge in the middle, similar in appearance to the one on the Surface Book, as well as familiar smartphone components like a bezel and camera.

The inventor listed on the document is Kabir Siddiqui, who has been named on previous patent documents related to a foldable Surface device. He’s also credited with inventing features like the Surface kickstand and camera.

The patents represent one of the clearest signs yet that Microsoft has shown interest in building a “new and disruptive” category that includes elements of a smartphone, tablet and computer all in one. Rumblings of a new Surface phone-like device, under the codename Andromeda, have persisted for years, though the company has yet to confirm such a plan.

Microsoft representatives declined to comment on the patent filing.

Diehard Windows Phone fans are eager to see a new mobile offering from Microsoft, and they even circulated a petition in July after news reports indicated that the device may be on hold indefinitely.

Plans for the device reportedly came together under the direction of Terry Myerson, who left the company following a reorganization earlier this year. New leadership could take the device in a new direction or discard it entirely.

(U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Drawing)

The patent filings shed little light on the current status of the device, as the original application dates back to the summer of 2017. Microsoft just held a big hardware event last week, which included a new Surface Headphones product, as well as the next generation of the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop but nothing about a foldable phone/tablet.

Microsoft has largely retreated from the smartphone hardware market when Windows Phone failed to catch on. Microsoft has spent the last few years shifting its mobile strategy to focus on breaking down the walls between devices and unifying the Windows experience between PCs and smartphones on competing operating systems. Apps like Microsoft Launcher and tools like Project Rome exemplify Microsoft’s new mobile strategy.

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Microsoft Cracks Top 5 PC Vendor List in US Thanks to Surface

In the US, PC demand got a lift from enterprises migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and by consumer demand for gaming PCs. But challenges remain ahead for the market amid a CPU shortage and a US trade war with China.

Microsoft Surface Tease

Microsoft has become one of the top five PC vendors in the US.

Redmond’s Surface devices helped it top Acer to become the country’s fifth largest PC vendor by shipments in the third quarter, according to research firm Gartner, nabbing 4.1 percent market share on 602,000 shipments. However, Microsoft is still far behind No. 4 Apple, which shipped over three times as many units as Microsoft did for 13.7 percent of the market.

HP remained the top dog with a 30.7 percent share of the US PC market and 4.5 million units shipped.

The third quarter was the first time Microsoft cracked the top five rankings in Gartner’s preliminary results for the US market, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa told PCMag.

Technically, Microsoft was also a top five vendor in the last few quarters, but as Kitagwawa explained, “we underestimated Surface shipments in our preliminary results. But for this quarter, we believe that Surface shipments were high enough to declare their number five position. Thus, we were able to show them on our US top 5 ranking.”

Gartner Q3 2018 PC shipments

Globally, growth in the PC market was essentially flat. PC shipments were up by only 0.1 percent in the last year during the third quarter, according to Gartner.

Rival research firm IDC said shipment numbers actually shrunk by 0.9 percent year over year. Nevertheless, they still beat IDC’s original forecast, which expected a 3 percent decline.

In the US, PC demand was given a lift by enterprises migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and schools buying up Chromebooks for use in the classroom, IDC said.

But another driver has been consumers buying up PC gaming systems amid the rise of eSports, IDC analyst Neha Mahajan told PCMag. “Gaming is a massive draw right now,” he said. “It’s propping up the high-end of the consumer PC market.”

The gaming demand and corporate refresh cycle promise to keep PC demand stable over the coming quarters. But challenges remain. An ongoing shortage of CPUs and brewing trade war between the US and China have sparked some fears that PCs and component costs may go up.

However, Mahajan doesn’t expect consumers to end up paying any higher prices in the short-term. Vendors will try to absorb the costs from the CPU shortages, rather than risk losing PC sales, he said. The US tariffs on Chinese-made goods have also been confined to certain computer components, as opposed to fully assembled PCs from big-name brands.

“As long as the tariffs aren’t on finished (PC) systems, which they aren’t yet, we won’t be experiencing a massive impact,” he said. “Where I think things do start to get painful are for your local system integrators, who are doing a lot of the assembly in the US, and importing raw components.”

Although Gartner ranks Microsoft as a top five PC vendor in the US, IDC does not since the research firm does not consider Surface devices to be PCs.

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Microsoft promises to recover files deleted by Windows 10 bug

a close up of a sign

Microsoft has pledged to rescue those all-important personal files that its most recent Windows 10 update contrived to consume. The company was forced to halt the rollout of its October 2018 upgrades when users started complaining that their documents, music and images were disappearing.

According to Dona Sarkar, who runs the Windows Insider Program, users who have been affected by the crisis need stop using their machine, and contact Microsoft directly. In a tweet, Sarkar said that technical support teams “have the tools to get you back to a good state.”

If you’re in this position, then you can call +1-800-Microsoft or the local support number if you’re overseas.

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Microsoft Project xCloud Brings Xbox Games to Phones, PCs

The idea behind Project xCloud is to make it possible for people to play games on demand with anyone they want, on any device – regardless of whether it’s a PC, console, or smartphone. Redmond is currently testing Project xCloud and expects to launch public trials next year.

Microsoft Project xCloud

Microsoft on Monday formally announced Project xCloud, a new game-streaming service it first tipped at E3 in June.

The idea behind Project xCloud is to make it possible for people to play games on demand with anyone, on any device—regardless of whether it’s a PC, console, or smartphone.

“Today, the games you play are very much dictated by the device you are using,” Microsoft Gaming Cloud Corporate Vice President Kareem Choudhry explained in a Monday blog post. “Project xCloud’s state-of-the-art global game-streaming technology will offer you the freedom to play on the device you want without being locked to a particular device, empowering YOU, the gamers, to be at the center of your gaming experience.”

Project xCloud will offer PC and console gamers “new choices in when and where they play” and, perhaps more exciting, give mobile gamers “access to worlds, characters, and immersive stories they haven’t been able to experience before,” Choudhry added. The company promises a console-like experience on all devices.

Microsoft says Xbox One game developers will be able to bring their content to Project xCloud to make it available across devices “with no additional work.” The service will work on today’s 4G networks, and 5G networks as they roll out.

  • Redmond is currently testing Project xCloud and expects to launch public trials next year. The test experience runs on devices, including phones and tablets, connected to an Xbox Wireless Controller via Bluetooth. Microsoft is also developing a touch input overlay for those who want to play without a controller. The company’s developers and researchers are also working to “combat latency through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding,” Choudhry added.

Microsoft’s announcement comes just days after Google launched public trials of its own game-streaming service, Project Stream, which will let you play PC games on Chrome.

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Risky selfies killed 259 people in 6 years, study says

The deaths happened in 137 incidents worldwide from 2011 to 2017.


Selfie deaths are becoming a problem, according to researchers.

A study published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care calls for the declaration of “No Selfie Zones” in dangerous areas such as mountain tops, tall buildings and water bodies in order to decrease deaths.

India-based researchers found that 259 people worldwide died from accidents that occurred while trying to take a cool selfie in 137 incidents from October 2011 to November 2017. The average age of the deceased was roughly 23 years old, and over 70 percent were males.

Most of the selfie deaths occurred in accidents related to drowning, fires, vehicles and falls, according to the report. Drowning was the most common cause of death, such as when someone got washed away by waves on a beach or when a boat capsized while the person tried to take a selfie. Some people also died taking selfies in front of moving trains. Other deaths involved animals, electrocution and guns.

The highest number of reported selfie deaths happened in India, followed by Russia, the US and Pakistan. Most of the deaths in the US were due to firearms, according to the study.

The massive use of cellphones and the “desire of ‘being cool,’ posting photos on social media, and getting rewards in forms of likes and comments” are causing more selfie deaths, according to the researchers. They recommended declaring “No Selfie Zone” because “selfies take a toll on a large number of adolescents” and noted that some countries already post signs warning against selfies in dangerous areas.

The study was based on English-language news reports, the researchers notes, therefore reports in local language would have been missed and more selfie-death cases could have occurred.

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Holy Crap, Am I a Microsoft Surface Fanboy? By Jake Swearingen@JakeSwearingen

Photo: Microsoft

Remember that annoying “What’s a computer?” ad Apple ran incessantly last winter? It was aggravating for a lot of reasons — that kid knew what a computer is, damn it! — but it was especially eye-rolling for anybody who has actually tried to use an iPad Pro as a full-time computer. From the funky way iOS handles file storage to the fact that the iPad Pro keyboard doesn’t have a trackpad, the iPad Pro is fantastic tablet but a poor laptop — I’d never recommend anyone use it for a full-time work machine.

The Surface Pro, meanwhile, is a good tablet and a great laptop — lightweight, long battery life, and with enough processing power to do most of what you need to do, unless your work involves a lot of high-end graphics processing. (If you’re considering making the switch, I would recommend trying out the keyboard once or twice — I like it, but some find it slightly annoying to type on.)

Since 2015, my go-to recommendation for Mac users left cold by Apple’s anemic laptop offerings has been the Surface Pro. Microsoft rolled out updates to both its Surface Pro and Surface Laptop line yesterday, and the new Surface Pro 6, at $899, will likely continue to be my go-to recommendation.

If there’s anything that I might recommend over a Surface Pro to a dissatisfied MacBook user, though, it would be the clamshell Surface Laptop 2. It can go toe-to-toe with anything being put out by high-end PC manufacturers like HP or Dell. The screen looks beautiful, its battery life is impressive, and it’s lightweight and sports an impressive amount of battery life, all for $999. And that keyboard — oh man. The throw, the travel, the sharp clicking joy of tapping away on it. I’m typing this out on a 2015 MacBook Pro, and I’m still dreaming about that Surface Laptop keyboard (made all the more appealing, of course, by Apple’s recent keyboard woes.) You can get better specs by shopping around with other PC manufacturers, but I’d argue the fit and finish you get with both the Surface Pro and the Surface Laptop — those small, barely noticeable details that add up to a device that ultimately feels holistic and good to use — make both a bargain. They’re the laptops that Apple should be making. (That both the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 come in a very slick matte black is also a nice touch.)

The one letdown: Both the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 continue to use Microsoft’s Surface Connect charger and mini DisplayPort instead of making the leap into using USB-C, the way that you’re likely charging your phone if you’re on Android, and the way you’ll charge the majority of your devices in the very near future. There are arguments to be made for the Surface Connect charger — it’s magnetic, meaning that it’ll yank out easily if you trip over a cord — but the mini DisplayPort should have been killed off a few cycles ago, and seeing it appear here is frustrating.

Microsoft also rolled out an update to the Surface Studio, its easel-like computer meant for graphic design. Starting at $3,499, it’s a beautiful but niche product, but it got a much-needed boost to its internal specs, vital for anyone doing intensive graphical work. And it debuted its Surface headphones, noise-canceling cans with Cortana and some smart AI stuff built in that will go on sale for $349. They sounded nice — the ability to turn the noise-cancellation on and off by turning a knob on the left headphone is a smart touch — but I’m not sure I’m giving up my Sennheisers for Surface headphones.

So what does all this add up to? Microsoft knows it’s not hip. “Apple stands for cool. Google stands for search. Microsoft stands for empowerment,” says Chris Capossela, chief marketing officer at Microsoft. “Empowerment” has been thrown around a lot by Microsoft in recent years, a way of saying that Microsoft products are about getting work done, while its competitors are about goofing off or attracting your attention in order to sell it to advertisers.

“How does our stuff let you do what you want to do and get out? Our business model is not about taking your time,” said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s Modern Life & Devices Group. “Success for us is when we’ve been able to give you back time.”

This can all seem a little fuzzy, but it does lead to some genuine “Oh, wow” moments in practice. In a hands-on demo, I watched someone with a Surface pen doodle out thoughts in handwriting on a Surface Pro screen, and then quickly turn those handwritten notes into a very professional and put-together PowerPoint. If that doesn’t sound all that mind-blowing, you haven’t spent hours wrestling with PowerPoint trying to render what you could draw on a napkin in two minutes.

At its best, the Surface lineup — and, more broadly, Microsoft’s consumer hardware and software ambitions in the past four years — create a seamless way for you to get work done, and the more I wrestle with my aging MacBook and try to figure out what laptop I’ll buy next, it’s a vision that I’m finding increasingly compelling. “We’re focusing far more on our fans,” said Microsoft’s Capossela. Microsoft’s event, he said, was focused on its “core fanbase.” In 2012, the idea that there would be a “core fanbase” of Microsoft’s hardware beyond the Xbox would have been laughable. In 2018, I’m mildly surprised to say that I may be one of them.

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