Born every minute

In the world of computer crime, the names of the Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department have achieved the level of 'retired Nigerian general,' emerging regularly in bogus e-mail messages phishing for personal information and, ultimately, people's money.

This isn't new: The IRS has been getting complaints for at least a couple of years from people hit by e-mail messages supposedly from the agency, supposedly offering unexpected tax refunds or warning that the recipient faces an audit. But the practice has persisted and grown to the extent that the agencies felt the need recently to warn the public.

As with other phishing scams, e-mail messages direct the recipients to a site where they're supposed to give their personal information or click on links that will download spyware or other malicious code onto their computers.

And the mugs behind this game are raking it in ' a recent Government Accountability Office report ( estimated that phishing nets $1 billion a year in the United States. Scamming people for their money is nothing new; it's been going on for as long there have been people and money. It's just accelerated on the Internet because of the Web's great reach and low overhead.

And it's not likely to end soon. The government can issue warnings, pass laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act and even bolster enforcement. Perhaps Congress and regulatory agencies should do even more. But no amount of government action can solve the problem: Some people fall for this stuff, even when it's posing as unsolicited good news from a government agency, which you would think would set off alarms. Maybe those people just want to think the best of their bureaucrats.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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