National Consumers League

Feds, Orgs, Biz Collaborating against Phishing Scams


by Sally Greenberg Recently, the Federal Trade Commission brought together experts from government, nonprofit, and industry in Washington to talk about “Phishing.” The National Consumers League, which has long worked to help and protect consumers from fraud, came equipped with our latest intelligence on Phishing scams brought to our attention by our Fraud Center.

What is Phishing? If you’ve ever received a pop-up box on your computer screen with requests like this, you’ve been a target of a phishing scam:

  • “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account has not been compromised, please click below and confirm your identity.”

or this:

  • “During our regular course of verifying accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and provide us with your account information”

These email pitches are sent out by the millions from Internet fraudsters who trick consumers into giving out bank account, social security passwords, or other sensitive personal information. This information enables these crooks to get into your accounts and steal money from you.

I got a phishing request myself several months ago in a pop-up that appeared on my computer – could I just quickly verify some personal information? The language was very similar to what you see above. I didn’t recognize the company asking for my “account” information, so I looked up the company and called them to ask why they had contacted me. The woman on the other line confirmed what I suspected: “Sorry, we’ve been the victim of a phishing scam.”

That was simple enough. We don’t want you to take the bait either, so, remember:

  • don’t respond to pop up windows asking for personal information
  • don’t ever give out passwords to anyone
  • the IRS doesn’t ask for information through the Internet, they will mail you a letter, so don’t fall for a tax scam either

Too many consumers don’t heed these warnings as the numbers below demonstrate:

  • More than 3.5 million Americans lost money to phishing schemes and online identify theft over a 12 month period ending in August 2007.
  • Total amount lost is $3.2 billion
  • The Anti Phisihing Working Group found that in November 2007 that 178 corporate identifies and brands were hijacked and used for phishing scams, - when we did our report the numbers were much smaller – in 2003 28 brands had been attacked– in Oct 2004 44 brands – October 2005 – 96 brands. Now we’re at 178 brands hijacked.

NCL recently met with the staff of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) who has introduced legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ted Stevens (D-AK), to make criminal phishing schemes illegal and to create funding for prevention efforts. NCL will be working with these members of Congress and the FTC to heighten awareness among consumers about phishing scams and increase penalties on the perpetrators.