Corporate America Takes Aim at Phishers

Gretchen Gallen
NEW YORK – Several large corporations announced plans this week to combat a form of identity theft known as "phishing," which frequently uses big-name companies as fronts for stealing personal identification information from consumers.

Typically, phishers send users bogus emails pretending to be legitimate businesses. The user is then duped into providing private information that is used for identity theft.

In an effort to retain the integrity of their company names, AT&T Wireless Services Inc., Charles Schwab Corp., DirecTV Group Inc. and IBM Corp., Fidelity Investments, Tenet Healthcare Corp., and several other companies from the financial, telecommunications and technology sectors, have formed the Trusted Electronic Communications Forum (TECF) with a goal of creating technology standards that will aid in fighting phishing scams.

The underlying goal of forming TECF, the trade group said in a statement, is to avoid diluting the legitimacy of corporate email and other forms of electronic commerce in the eye of the consumer. TECF will also assist the U.S. Government in pursuing phishers as well as prosecuting offenders.

In the month of April alone, eBay, PayPal, and Citigroup were used in major phishing scams that managed to steal millions of consumer dollars. In one particular scam, hackers sent out emails pretending to be from eBay, or its subsidiary PayPal, claiming that the user's account was about to be suspended unless they clicked on a provided link and updated their credit card information.

Recent statistics from Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner state that of the $2.4 million consumers that fell prey to identity theft over this past year, more than half of those scams were done by phishers. Gartner states that 57 million Americans have received phishing emails in the past year.

"The epidemic as a whole has increased so much in size and success rates in the past several months," Shawn Eldridge, TECF's chairman and director, told the Wall Street Journal. "The problem is very large and no one is immune."