Computer Crime Research Center


Phishing the net

Date: August 27, 2005
By: Frank Walker

Spam is on the run, with the world's leading spammer closed down and bankrupt.

However, experts warn the latest computer scam called phishing is far more dangerous, reaping billions of dollars from unwary internet users.

Computer giant Microsoft dragged global spam king Scott Richter before a court in New York this month, and received $9 million from him for using the internet to send billions of unsolicited emails.

Experts say phishing is a form of identity theft that involves the use of bogus websites and the Trojan computer virus, which they say gets "smarter" after it invades each home computer.

The Australian Bankers' Association estimates identity fraud costs the banks $25 million a year.

Accountants KPMG found $456 million was lost in Australia and New Zealand over the past two years from identity fraud, while Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty said identity crime in Australia could cost the community up to $4 billion a year.

Worldwide, it is estimated to cost up to $2 trillion.

"Over the past year, the monthly growth rate for phishing sites was estimated at 15 per cent," Mr Keelty said recently.

He said the Australian Federal Police had recently joined a worldwide sweep that closed down 1400 phishing sites - 13 of them in Australia.

Microsoft's general manager of technology care and safety, Ryan Hamlin, said while visiting Sydney this month that phishing was stealing more than $13.3 billion a year in the United States.

"We are prosecuting 119 phishers at the moment who have used hotmail or msn subscribers," Mr Hamlin said.

"We followed one trail, which led us all over the world to the UK, to Eastern Europe and ended up in the bedroom computer of a 19-year-old on the east coast of the US.

"The internet mafia in Eastern Europe is ruthless. If you visit a site they set up, they automatically download some code to your PC which takes control of your machine."

One Sydney victim last week found $14,000 ripped from her credit card in 28 cash withdrawals in just one day from two ATM terminals in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

"Strange, as I was in Bondi at the time," she said. Westpac said she had probably been "skimmed"- her card details stolen and sent to credit card mafia in Eastern Europe.

The Sydney Opera House has battled a phisher who set up a mirror website to its own and ripped off countless people who thought they were booking tickets to the opera.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission hired private detectives who tracked the bogus website to a man called Richard Chen operating in Chicago.

They forced Chen to close the bogus site, but court action proved fruitless.

Software manufacturers are racing to beat the scams with new screening technology. Within 12 months, Microsoft will have a new internet explorer program with built-in, anti-phishing technology.
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