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San Francisco—Online swindlers are busier than ever thanks to the latest trick of the trade: “phishing.” By creating replicas of legitimate Web sites, they fool unsuspecting Internet users into divulging personal information such as birth dates and Social Security numbers. The phishers then use this data to set up fake credit card accounts or make fraudulent online purchases. Businesses that regularly ask customers to submit information online—such as financial institutions and Internet service providers—have seen their Web sites become especially popular targets for duplication. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry association set up to combat identity fraud, reported a total of 1,707 active phishing sites in December 2004—up 192% from July. According to the Cambridge, Mass.-based group, 85% of the fake sites targeted financial services companies. And now phishers are starting to hit other sectors like telecommunications and health care, said Shawn Eldridge, the chairman of Trusted Electronic Communications Forum, another anti-phishing group composed of companies in various industries. “Attackers are becoming far more sophisticated and agile, making it more difficult to track the offense to any one source,” Eldridge said. The short-term fix In-house lawyers at companies targeted by phishers say that stomping out the imitation Web sites calls for innovative tactics, quick action and collaborative work. In general, attorneys say that they first focus on the short-term fix—getting Web hosting services to take down a bogus site—before turning to long-term solutions, such as bringing legal action against the phishers. In most phishing schemes, individuals receive an e-mail that purports to be from an established company. The message urges victims to click on a link that will supposedly take them to the business’s legitimate Web site, but instead goes to the phisher’s replica. The initial concern at a targeted company is to shut down the fake site before its customers get taken for a ride. That calls for speed, said Thomas Dailey, the general counsel of Reston, Va.-based Verizon Online Services Inc. “You need to react as quickly as you can,” said Dailey. “You’re really trying to do this in hours, hopefully not days.” As companies receive reports of a new phishing site, their attorneys spring into action, locating where the site is being hosted and taking steps to get it offline. In-house lawyers say that a phone call is usually sufficient to convince an American hosting service to pull the plug on a phisher.

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