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June 2005


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 information.”

   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 personal information.

   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 Alliance.”

   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 spam@uce.gov.

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.

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