Phishing: The Consumer
Crime of 2005?
Phishing is a type of identity-theft
crime that just seems to be getting worse. I reported on this
crime back in my July 2004 column.
You probably know the scam—a
legitimate-looking e-mail from your bank or other type of financial
institution asks you to “update your personal or financial
According to the Anti-Phishing
Work Group, the number of phishing attacks has grown an average
of 26 percent per month over the past year. Connecticut-based
Gartner Research estimates that nearly 57 million Americans
have received at least one phishing e-mail. Unfortunately, more
than 1.7 million Americans are also estimated to have been victimized
by the sites, costing banks and credit card issuers more than
$1.2 billion in direct losses. Incredibly, an estimated 19 percent
of U.S adult Internet users trusted enough to actually click
on a link in the phishing e-mail and 3 percent reported actually
entering sensitive personal or financial information. And, in
Wisconsin, a Madison television station just reported on a consumer
who lost nearly $2,000 to a phishing criminal.
Phishing criminals are becoming
more creative as well. According to the Wall Street Journal,
hackers are manipulating settings on personal computers so that
users are redirected to counterfeit websites. Other criminals
are using “Malware,” software that monitors your
keystrokes, without your knowledge, in an effort to steal your
Some states are making phishing
a crime. New Mexico just made phishing a fourth degree felony
and Washington allows victims to sue for damages from phishers.
Companies are also fighting back. Microsoft announced that it
has filed 117 lawsuits against alleged phishers, and a number
of companies have come together to form an “Anti-Fraud
The hard part, of course, is catching
the criminals because they move quickly to another Internet
location or may be located in a foreign country. The average
site operates for only 5.7 days before it is closed down. This
is often plenty of time for consumers to suffer real damage.
Immediately delete unsolicited
e-mails asking you to verify account information. Contact the
company at its real address and notify security personnel that
you received a phishing e-mail using the company’s name.
Banks, credit unions, and other financial services companies
will not send you an e-mail asking you to update your credit
card number or account information. Furthermore, never send
personal or financial information in an e-mail as it is not
a secure method of sending sensitive items. Use antivirus software
and maintain an effective computer firewall to the outside.
Finally, you can forward the phishing e-mail to the federal
authorities at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for the Best Available Seat
on a Plane?
If you are a frequent flyer who
is not often upgraded to first class, you may have wondered
if there is a better way to determine what type of seats are
available on your plane. For example, some frequent flyers prefer
exit-row seats or the seats next to the bulkhead. Most do not
want seats next to the restroom.
SeatGuru.com is a website where
you can check what type of seat may be available on your plane.
This website offers extensive diagrams and details about airliner
cabins and, according to USA Today, illustrates nearly 200 cabins
of jets used by the 25 top airlines. The site rates seats of
planes based by color-coding and indicates where the more desirable
seats are located, such as those with more room. It also indicates
those seats that might have small children sitting in them or
those that are located next to the dreaded restroom.
Your ability to choose a seat
depends in part whether you are in the airline’s preferred-flyer
club. The higher your status, the more likely the airline will
assign you to a more desirable seat, including possible free
upgrades to first class or business coach.
Some airlines, including Northwest,
allow you to check seat availability before purchase or at the
time of check-in. Using the Internet, I routinely check into
my Northwest Airlines flight within 24 hours of departure and
select my preferred seat. With other major carriers, I will
often book my flight online and then call the carrier to improve
my seat assignment. But be aware that not all reservation agents
will help you with this process, and no airline will guarantee
your seat assignment. Just last month, I had a seat assignment
negated when the plane type was changed at the last moment.
The seat I had booked didn’t even exist on the replacement
plane, and I ended up with the seat of a passenger who arrived
late to the flight.