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Sidney 17th June 2004 04:36

Online Thieves Empty Bank Accounts
Jay Wrolstad,

Gaining illegal access to checking accounts is increasingly the goal of tech-savvy thieves. In fact, it is the fastest-growing type of financial consumer fraud in the U.S., according to a recent survey by Gartner.

Based on a poll of 5,000 online U.S. adults, the study shows that some 1.98 million consumers have been victimized by checking-account fraud, resulting in US$2.4 billion in losses.

Phishing for Dollars

In most cases that are not inside jobs, thieves likely stole account numbers and passwords to access checking accounts online or through telephone-banking services, report author Avivah Litan told NewsFactor.

Attacks based on e-mail phishing or spyware are on the rise, she said. By clicking on a pop-up ad, Web users inadvertently can download spyware, technology that surreptitiously gathers such information as user IDs and passwords for bank accounts through key logging and other techniques.

Similarly, thieves send out phishing messages that appear to be from reputable sources and entice individuals to divulge sensitive information.

Increased Vigilance Required

Given the survey results, financial institutions are well advised to increase their vigilance, Litan said. "They need stronger software on the back end to detect suspicious activity in checking accounts, using pattern recognition like that used by credit-card companies," she said. Also, strong access controls are needed since passwords are not effective.

As for consumers, Litan advises avoiding online links requesting personal information and unfamiliar Web sites, staying away from pop-up ads and scrutinizing their bank account statements.

Some 57 million U.S. Internet users have received fraudulent, phishing e-mails, according to Gartner, and about 1.7 million of them may have been tricked into divulging personal information, Litan noted. Roughly 76 percent of the attacks occurred since last October.

Gartner's recent survey examined five types of consumer fraud: new-account fraud, check forgery, unauthorized access to checking accounts, illegal credit-card purchases and fraudulent cash advances on credit cards. Unauthorized access to checking accounts grew the fastest in the past year.

In terms of the number of victims, fraudulent credit-card purchases remains the biggest problem, followed by checking-account hijacks, according to the survey.

Businesses Target Phishing

Meanwhile, a global consortium of businesses has established the Trusted Electronic Communications Forum (TECF), targeting phishing, spoofing and other online identity fraud tactics.

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