If you use emails actively in your
communication, you must have
received various messages claiming to be from Ebay, Paypal and
a number of banks. A recent email as if from U.S. Bank
Corporation that I received contains the subject "U.S. Bank
Fraud Verification Process" and in the body of the mail it says
"We recently reviewed your account, and suspect that your U.S.
Bank Internet Banking account may have been accessed by an
unauthorized third party. Protecting the security of your
account and of the U.S. Bank network is our primary concern.
Therefore, as a preventative measure, we have temporarily
limited access to sensitive account features. To restore your
account access, please take the following steps to ensure that
your account has not been compromised:". It continues with a
link to a webpage, which looks very similar to original
page of the bank.Warning!
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The misleading web site appears
authentic with familiar
graphics and logos. The wordings are professional right down
to the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
If you happened to be holding an account of the claimed bank,
followed the instructions of the email and input your account,
pin, password, etc. you are doomed. You just have handed over
access to your account to a con artist, who, in a matter of
days, will drain off all the money available in that account.
This new scam, which is proliferating in a very rapid pace,
is called "Phishing". Phishing is a form of identity theft,
where a con artist with the help of official looking email
containing link to phony web pages capable of harvesting
information, tricks an unsuspecting victim into divulging
sensitive personal data. Scammers use these data to bilk
victims out of their savings.
One of the most common phishing campaigns being waged has
targeted users of Web auction giant eBay and its PayPal
division with financial services giant Citibank serving as
another popular target. However, recently, every major bank
has been hit with this scam. Crooks send out huge amounts of
emails with an expectation that some of these email address
owners may have online access to their accounts at the bank.
The term "Phishing" is a deviation of the word "Fishing". In
hackers lexicon, in many words, "F" becomes "Ph". The term
derives from the fact that scammers use sophisticated bait as
they "fish" for users personal information.
According to Gartner, a research firm, illegal access to
checking accounts gained via phishing has become into the
fastest growing type of consumer theft in the United States.
Roughly 1.98 million people reported that their checking
account was breached in one way or another during the last
year and US$ 2.4 billion were defrauded from the victims!
Gartner also estimated that 57 million U.S. Internet users
have received phishing emails and 3 percent of them may
have fooled into revealing their personal sensitive
The Anti-Phishing Working Group has also spotted a dramatic
increase in reports of phishing attacks in recent months.
Since November, 2003 phishing scams increase by about 110
percent each month. In April alone, the group identified
1125 unique phishing scams, a sharp lift of 178 percent
from the previous month.
MessageLabs, a company that watches phishing scams closely,
has noted an even more dramatic increase in number of
phishing emails. It claims to see phishing messages jump
from just 279 in September, 2003 to a staggering 215,643
in March of 2004.
The scammers also started to use more sophisticated
technologies in recent months. The latest generation of
phishing scammers uses several methods to trick users,
including pop-up graphics to mast the true web URL of the
phishing site and the installation of Spywares and Trojans
on victims computer. The perpetrators also take advantage
of security bugs in web browsers, in which the URL in the
address bar appears to be for one site but is, in fact,
a link to a totally different site.
A new Windows worm under the name "Korgo" is able to
infiltrate into victims system with a key logging Trojan,
steal information that the victim input in web forms and
secretly transmit to designated server. There are a number
of variants of this worm and they are spreading rapidly.
However, Microsoft in April came up with a patch to seal
this glitch. Many computers without the patch are still
vulnerable to this potentially dangerous worm.
A U.S. Treasury report provides consumers with steps to
prevent and report phishing scams:
- Do not respond to or open any e-mail that warns that
an account is about to be closed. Contact the company
directly by phone and inquire of this e-mail.
- Do not submit financial information unless there is a
symbol for a locked padlock on the browser's status bar.
Also look for the https:// at the beginning of the
Web address. If both of these signs are absent,
the Web site is not secure.
- Always review your bank statement and credit card
statements immediately upon receipt.
- Verify the domestic telephone number listed on the Web
site through directory assistance or other reliable
sources and call the number. Many phishing attacks have
originated outside the U.S. and don't have a domestic
- Report suspicious activity or if you have been defrauded
to the FTC and the FBI.
- Phishing e-mails can be forwarded to [email protected] Complaints
can be filed at www.ftc.gov. Phishing attacks can also be
reported to the Internet Fraud Complaint
Center at www.ifccfbi.gov.
Other cautionary measures you should take in order to protect
- Since most of the phishing emails come through spam, get
a spam filter and install on your computer.
- If you suspect a phishing attempt, report immediately to
the bank. Every bank web site has a link or a toll-free
number to report scams. Don't be ashamed if you were
tricked into divulging account information. If you report
it immediately, your account will be protected until you
receive a new PIN.
- Change your password and PINs regularly. Banks advise
that you use separate PINs and passwords for different
accounts, that way if one gets compromised, your
entire financial life wont be revealed.
- If you are a frequent user of EBay, download its Web
browser toolbar, a small program that runs with a
user's Web browser. It flashes red when the user visits
a possible spoof site. The toolbar uses a database of
spoof site URLs, submitted by customers and is updated
- Check your computer frequently for possible Trojan
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