Don’t Let April 1 Be April “Phools” Day: Federal Trade Commission, National Consumers League and Microsoft Warn Internet Users of Phishing Scams

WASHINGTON — March 31, 2005 — In sharp contrast to the harmless pranks that will be played on April Fools’ Day, deceptive phishing schemes are no laughing matter. To strike a blow against criminals who prey on Internet users, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), National Consumers League and Microsoft Corp. today urged consumers to beware of phishing schemes aimed at stealing their identities.



Phishing is a high-tech twist on the all-too-common crime of identity theft, where spam or pop-up messages are used to deceive recipients into releasing personal or financial information into the hands of criminals. The FTC reports that identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint in 2004. And, for the first time, phishing appeared on the top Internet and telemarketing scams lists gathered by the National Consumers League in 2004.

Phishing is a high-tech twist on the all-too-common crime of identity theft, where spam or pop-up messages are used to deceive recipients into releasing personal or financial information into the hands of criminals. The FTC reports that identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint in 2004. And, for the first time, phishing appeared on the top Internet and telemarketing scams lists gathered by the National Consumers League in 2004.

Appearing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Lydia Parnes, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Susan Grant, director of the National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center and Internet Fraud Watch program, and Jacqueline Beauchere and Aaron Kornblum of Microsoft urged Internet users to exercise the same caution when doing business online as they would in the physical world and called for increased consumer awareness of phishing.

“Computer users can stop phishers by not responding to an e-mail or pop-up that asks for personal information,” said Lydia Parnes of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Just delete it.”

“Phishing is more than a dirty trick played on unsuspecting consumers – it’s a serious identity theft problem,” said Grant. “In little over a year it’s become one of the top scams reported to our National Fraud Information Center and Internet Fraud Watch program.”

“The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, transact business and educate ourselves,” said Aaron Kornblum, Internet Safety Enforcement attorney at Microsoft. “We must work together to stop these con artists from misusing the Internet as a tool for fraud. Microsoft provides consumers with the information and technology that will help protect all of us from this pervasive and destructive threat, and has filed legal action today against some of these individuals.”

Kornblum announced that Microsoft is filing 117 lawsuits against alleged phishers as part of its commitment to protecting consumers against phishing and other cybercrime. The company is filing the lawsuits today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle against John Doe defendants.

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.

Internet users should follow these simple steps to avoid phishing scams:

  • Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly and asks for your personal information. It’s hard to tell whether something is legitimate by looking at an e-mail or a Web site, or talking to someone on the phone. But if you’re contacted out of the blue and asked for your personal information, it’s a warning sign that something is “phishy.” Most legitimate companies and agencies don’t operate that way.

  • Don’t click on a link in an e-mail message that asks for your personal information. It may take you to a phony Web site that looks just like the Web site of the real company or government agency. Following the instructions, you enter your personal information on the Web site — and into the hands of identity thieves. To check whether the message is really from the company or agency, call it directly or go to the company’s Web site. If you don’t have the telephone number, get it from the phone book, the Internet or directory assistance. Use a search engine to find the official Web site.

  • If someone contacts you and says you’ve been a victim of fraud, verify the person’s identity before you provide any personal information. Legitimate credit card issuers and other companies may contact you if there is an unusual pattern indicating that someone else might be using one of your accounts. But usually they only ask if you made particular transactions; they don’t request your account number or other personal information. Law enforcement agencies might also contact you if you’ve been the victim of fraud. To be on the safe side, ask for the person’s name, the name of the agency or company, the telephone number, and the address. Then get the main number (see tip above) and call to find out if the person is legitimate.

About The National Consumer League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit http://www.nclnet.org.

NCL runs the National Fraud Information Center, which was created in 1992, and the Internet Fraud Watch, which was created in 1996, operating in tandem with the NFIC. Consumers from across the United States and Canada can call (800) 876-7060, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, or fill out the online form to file a complaint. NCL staff provides advice and tips on how to spot possible telemarketing or Internet fraud and how to report it. Fraud reports from consumers are sent within minutes to over 200 appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. For more information visit http://www.fraud.org.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Rapid Response Team, Waggener Edstrom for Microsoft, (503) 443-7070, rrt@wagged.com

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft® Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass on Microsoft’s corporate information pages. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may since have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/contactpr.mspx.

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