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The Federal Trade Commission, the National Consumers League, and Microsoft on Thursday told consumers that they have the power to stop online identity thieves. Hedging its bets, however, Microsoft also announced it had filed over 100 lawsuits against alleged phishers.
Phishing, where criminals attempt to hoodwink consumers into giving up personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers, by sending them e-mail that directs them to legitimate-looking Web sites, is a huge problem, all three organizations said at a Washington, D.C. press conference Thursday.
According to the FTC, identity theft was the number one consumer complaint in 2004, and phishing, said the National Consumers League, was among the top Internet frauds of last year.
"Phishing is more than a dirty trick played on unsuspecting consumers, it's a serious identity theft problem," Susan Grant, director of the National Consumers League's National Fraud Information Center and Internet Fraud Watch program, said in a statement.
"We must work together to stop these con artists from misusing the Internet as a tool for fraud," said Aaron Kornblum, a Microsoft attorney in its Internet safety enforcement group, in a statement.
Lydia Parnes of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection told consumers that they can stop phishers dead. "[Don't] respond to an e-mail or pop-up that asks for personal information," she said, in a statement. "Just delete it."
Easier said than done, especially when other phishing experts estimate that between 3 and 5 percent of people who receive a phishing e-mail actually click through to the bogus site and disclose some personal information.
Microsoft must think that way, too, since it also announced it had filed 117 lawsuits in a Seattle U.S. District Court against alleged phishers. Because Microsoft was unable to identify the criminals individually, it listed all defendants as John Does.
"Through today's sweep of John Doe lawsuits, Microsoft's legal team hopes to establish connections between phishing scams worldwide and uncover the largest-volume operators," Kornblum said.