According to reports, the scammer uses the Patriot Act, a sizable set of anti-terrorism laws and provisions pushed through Congress immediately after 9/11, to frighten people into surrendering their personal identification information.
The scam email appears to be extremely legitimate, many industry analysts are saying, and does not contain the usual amount of typos and poorly worded sentences that many of its predecessors have.
Disguised as a notice from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the fraudulent email informs the recipient that Tom Ridge, security director for the Department of Homeland Security, has advised the FDIC to suspend all deposit insurance on the recipient's bank account due to suspected violations of the Patriot Act.
The user is then advised to click through to a fake website that looks uncannily like an official FDIC web page and enter personal identification information such as bank account and social security numbers.
The scam is just another example of "phishing," an increasingly popular form of identity theft that hijacks a legitimate business' name and physical likeness for purposes of fraud.
"FDIC Consumer Call Centers in Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., began receiving a large number of complaints by consumers who received an email that has the appearance of being sent from the FDIC," the FDIC said in a statement. "This email was not sent by the FDIC and is a fraudulent attempt to obtain personal information from consumers. Financial institutions and consumers should not access the link provided within the body of the email and should not under any circumstances provide any personal information through this media."
According to authorities, the scam first originated in Pakistan, but it is now being generated from computers in Taiwan and China. The FDIC is reporting that the stolen data is being funneled through an Internet address in Russia. The first version of the scam has been shut down, but the scammer has since changed over to a different set of bogus websites and has so far managed to elude capture.
The FDIC has already received hundreds of complaints from victims of the scam, and an FBI investigation is currently underway.
The Patriot Act took a second slam Monday when U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins declared that a section of the Act was unconstitutional because it bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations.
The judge ruled that the ban is "impermissibly vague in its wording."
Today's ruling is the first federal court decision that has declared any section of the U.S. Patriot Act unconstitutional.
According to reports, the case originates from a complaint filed on behalf of five groups and two U.S. citizens who were seeking to provide support for Kurdish refugees in Turkey.
The plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they advised groups on seeking a peaceful resolution of the Kurds' campaign in Turkey. But the judge declared the provision in the Patriot Act that bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations unconstitutional.
"The U.S. Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature," the judge was quoted as saying.
The U.S. Justice Department is currently reviewing today's ruling.