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Anti-Phishing Bill Introduced To Congress
Sen. Partick J. Leahy has introduced the Anti-Phishing Act of 2005 to Congress for consideration. The Act would allow federal prosecutors to seek fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to five years against individuals convicted for promoting phishing scams. Online parody and political speech sites would be excluded from prosecution.
“Phishing” is an online scam used to deceive computer users into giving up personal information such as social security numbers and passwords. Phishing scams usually involve email messages requesting the verification of personal information from a familiar business. Readers are provided a link that sends them to what appears to be the site of the company in question. The reader is then asked to verify their account information by providing their name, address, social security number, account number, etc.
In truth, the site is an illegal copy of the business in question and the reader’s information is collected for later fraudulent use including identity theft. Consumers are estimated to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year to phishing scams. Undoubtedly, you have received more than a few of these emails.
Phishing emails are most likely to use the sites of banks, credit card companies, and large retailers. Online companies such as Ebay, PayPal and Earthlink have had similar problems. One particularly aggressive group even scammed the site of the IRS.
In April 2004, the IRS warned consumers that scam artists were sending emails purportedly from the IRS. Consumers received emails claiming they were under investigation for tax fraud and subject to prosecution. The emails contained language telling recipients they could “help” the investigation by providing “real” information and directed them to a website that was derivative of the IRS site. Consumers were then asked to provide detailed personal information to dispute the charge. Since most people fear the IRS, one can assume that a large number of people took the phishing bait.
The Anti-Phishing Act of 2005 is a nice start to combating scam artists that use phishing to pilfer money from consumers. The Act, however, will not put an end to deceptive phishing practices if it is passed. There reason involves jurisdictional issues.
A large percentage of the individuals promoting phishing scams reside outside of the United States. While they may take notice of the law, it will have no discernible effect on their fraudulent scams. Until there is an international response, phishing scams will continue to be a problem. Nonetheless, Senator Leahy should be commended for initiating efforts to deal with this growing problem.
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