Companies team to reel in 'phishing'

Group forms to deal with identity fraud

A new consortium of companies from across different industries has formed to tackle the problem of online identity fraud, better known as "phishing," the group said on Wednesday.

The Trusted Electronic Communications Forum (TECF) has representatives from leading retail, telecommunications, financial services and technology companies. The group will work with the U.S. and other governments, as well as standards organizations and companies to fix problems such as e-mail and Web-site spoofing, which contribute to a fast-growing online identity theft problem, said Shawn Eldridge, TECF chairman and director of products and marketing at TECF member company PostX Corp.

A number of leading companies have signed on to the TECF, including some that have had their names besmirched by phishing scams in the past. Member companies include Best Buy Co. Inc., AT&T Corp., Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., Fidelity Investments Inc., IBM Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc., the group said in a statement.

Representatives will form panels to develop long-term and short-term strategies to combat the phishing problem, including new technology and technology standards, best practices and legal action against suspected identity thieves. There are few specific details about TECF's plans beyond those general goals because the group has just formed, Eldridge said.

The TECF will join other groups devoted to the phishing problem, including the Anti-Phishing Working Group, another industry consortium made up of financial institutions, online retailers, Internet service providers and law enforcement. As opposed to that group, which tracks and reports on phishing scams, the TECF will focus more on developing and promoting standards that companies can use to combat phishing and to prevent the erosion of online commerce, Eldridge said.

In addition to working alongside other antiphishing groups, TECF will also consider recent proposals such as Microsoft's Caller ID specification and a proposal from Yahoo Inc. called Domain Keys, both of which are intended to eliminate e-mail spoofing, which is used by both spammers and those behind phishing attacks. However, TECF has not yet taken a position on those technologies, Eldridge said.

The new group was unveiled at the first ever Email Technology Conference in San Francisco and comes amid growing warnings about the danger posed by online scams such as phishing attacks, which combine spam e-mail messages and Web pages that look like legitimate e-commerce sites to steal sensitive information like user names, passwords, bank account and credit card numbers.

A survey conducted by Gartner Inc. recently found that illegal access to checking accounts is the fastest growing type of U.S. financial consumer fraud, due in part to the growth in online scams.

Gartner surveyed 5,000 online U.S. adults in April. Based on the results of that survey, the company estimates that 1.98 million adults have experienced this sort of crime in the past 12 months, losing approximately $2.4 billion, or $1,200 per victim, to fraud, the company said on Tuesday.

Also in April, the Anti-Phishing Working Group said reports of phishing campaigns grew by more than 178 percent from the previous month, to more than 1,100 unique scams.

While many of the details about the Trusted Electronic Communications Forum have to be worked out, the group has set up a Web site at http://www.tecf.org.

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