AOL Sees Phishing Surge For 2004

AOL tracked a sharp rise in phishing and identity theft scams in 2004.

The nation's largest ISP reported last week in its annual roundup of the top spam terms in messages sent to its users that it saw spammers shift their focus. While pornography-related spam was still prevalent, it was joined by identity theft e-mail messages. AOL recorded notable spikes in messages from phishers, whose e-mails impersonate trusted brands to obtain personal financial information.

Two of the top 10 spam e-mail subject lines in 2004 were from phishers. In 2003, no phishing-related subject lines made AOL's top 10.

Phishing emerged as a top threat to e-mail and Internet commerce in 2004. Several banks and ISPs formed the Anti-Phishing Working Group to track phishing attacks. The group reported that unique phishing attacks jumped from 176 in January to 1,518 in November.

By impersonating trusted brands such as Citibank and eBay, phishers are able to get a 5 percent response rate, according to the APWG.

AOL and other ISPs are working on e-mail authentication technologies designed to hinder phishers by establishing a secure e-mail identity that would make it harder for a scam artist to claim that e-mail messages are from banks or other legitimate businesses.

AOL said the increase in phishing coincides with an expanding sophistication of spammers. The company believes legal efforts under the CAN-SPAM Act have mostly weeded out small-time operators, leaving “hardcore kingpin” spammers.

Brian Morrissey covers Internet marketing for DM To keep up with the latest Internet marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter by visiting

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