Burden of spoof

Thursday, 17 July 2003, 9:29 AM EST

Cyber-criminals have hit millions of Americans with identity-theft attempts that look very much like official information requests from major corporate Web sites. Technical advancements have made it easy for fraudsters to accurately copy the Web pages of well-known companies, making the scam particularly likely to succeed.

Victims have received e-mails that seem to come from eBay, Bank of America, Best Buy and other companies. The messages say that they are alerting customers to problems with their accounts. The e-mails include hyperlinks to realistic-looking phony Web sites where the mark is asked to provide credit card or other personal information.

Since it's so inexpensive to send e-mails, con artists don't care whether most people receiving the messages actually have an account with the named company, explains Eric Wenger, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. Criminals can send out 100,000 e-mails for $50 or $100. "If they get one or two hits it's worthwhile," says Wenger. Not only that but they can use the data from previous victims to pay for the next scam.

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