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 web page of the bank.
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
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 victim’s 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 victim’s 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 number.
- Report suspicious activity or if you have been defrauded to the FTC
and the FBI.
- Phishing e-mails can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 yourself are:
- 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 won’t 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 quite often.
- Check your computer frequently for possible Trojan virus.