Computer Crime Research Center


More-formidable phishing

Date: September 28, 2004
By: Thomas Kostigen

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (CBS.MW) -- Online financial scams have stepped up their sophistication, targeting banking and brokerage customers with requests for "confirmation" of certain private information that, if given, allows criminals to access people's accounts.

In e-mail solicitations, scammers claim to be from the business development departments of nationally known banks as well as other legitimate-sounding entities and seek account number and access-code verification.

The practice has become so common, it has a name: "phishing." One in six consumers are the victim of identity theft, according to, which has been set up to address the illegal practice and to provide consumers with information and alerts. Visit the Web site.

Phishing is now the fourth most common Internet fraud, prompting STAR Debit and ATM Network along with the National Consumers League to launch a series of public service advertisements along with the phishinginfo Web site.

Wells Fargo Bank, whose name has been used in fraudulent solicitations, has a dedicated fraud-alert hotline and has even set up a "Report E-mail Fraud" page on its Web site. In big, red letters on its homepage, Citibank too is warning consumers of fraudulent e-mails. The practice is most common among banks, but can include other financial institutions such as brokerages.

Online fraud accounts for at least $50 million per year, according to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, run by the FBI. That number is just from cases reported; many cases of Internet fraud go unreported, according to the agency.

Internet auction fraud, nondelivery of merchandise and credit/debit card fraud account for most complaints followed by investment and business fraud and identity theft, the IFCC reports.

The IFCC was founded in 2000 to combat the proliferation of online scams. Run jointly by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, the initiative has resulted in numerous arrests and thwarting of Web-related crime. Most recently, Operation Web Snare, announced in August, resulted in 150 arrests and 177 indictments for cybercrime-related offenses.

"There has been a rise in complexity of phishing schemes, so it may be more difficult to determine legitimate Web sites from phishing sites," says an FBI spokesman. "If you are in doubt, don't correspond with any person or entity."

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