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.