Phishing Scam Uses Political Hook

WASHINGTON -- Phishing fraudsters have found another group of victims to target: People who want to donate to political campaigns.

SurfControl, a Web and e-mail filtering software vendor based in the U.K., has reported two apparent scams targeting people wishing to donate money to John Kerry's U.S. presidential campaign. E-mail with the subject line, "President John Kerry, please vote and contribute," directs recipients to two Web sites, one registered in India and the other in Texas.

Such scams are commonly called phishing, and involve stealing credit card numbers and other personal information by using spam e-mail to direct people to spoofed Web sites. The tactic has been around for years, but this is the first political phishing scam SurfControl has observed, says Susan Larson, vice president of global content at SurfControl.

Hoax Tactics

This latest scam doesn't appear to have a political motivation--just an economic one, Larson adds. The scam e-mail appeared within days of the end of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, she notes.

Phishing scammers can use current events to support their claims, Larson says. "They want people to think they have to do this now," she adds. "That's typical of the way they get the best hit."

Both sites are designed to look like Kerry's official campaign site, Larson says. Neither of the apparently spoofed sites was still operating as of late Tuesday, which along with the odd registration locations, led SurfControl to conclude the sites were not legitimate, Larson says.

The apparently bogus e-mail directed recipients to one domain registered in India, and another registered to an individual in New Braunfels, Texas, according to SurfControl.

"It was a very legitimate looking-e-mail," Larson notes.

People with concerns about e-mail asking for political donations should contact the campaign directly--in this case, at johnkerry.com, Larson advises.

Phishing Rises

Scammers using so-call phishing tactics typically send out e-mail masquerading as financial institutions or other e-commerce sites. The bogus e-mail message often tells recipients there's a problem with their accounts, and that they need to re-enter their bank account number or credit card number at a Web site designed to look like the legitimate e-commerce site.

An estimated 57 million U.S. adults had received phishing e-mail as of May, according to researchers at Gartner.

Phishing attacks increased 500 percent between January and May 2004, and an estimated 3 percent of phishing e-mail recipients fill out the forms on spoofed Web sites, Larson says.

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