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STAMFORD, Conn. – Fraudulent e-mail sent by fraudsters cost U.S. banks, credit unions and credit card issuers more than $1.2 billion in the past year, and the attacks continue to grow. According to a study of 5,000 adult Internet users just released by Gartner Inc., phishing attacks have become so widespread that an estimated 57 million Americans probably have received such e-mails, which try to direct the recipient to a fraudulent site which would fool him or her into revealing personal account numbers and similar information. And more than 1.75 million Americans may have taken the bait, leaving themselves and their creditors open to potential identity theft and other crimes. Such attacks could eventually threaten the future of online banking and all other forms of electronic commerce, says Avivah Litan, vice president and research director at Stamford-based Gartner. “Service providers should take action to apply solutions that dramatically minimize, if not eradicate, the threat, even if the service providers themselves are not direct targets,” Litan says. “Eventually, all participants in Internet commerce will be hurt by an erosion of consumer trust in online transactions if phishing attacks are not sharply reduced from current levels,” she says. According to the Gartner survey, 76% of the known or suspected attacks have occurred since October, and another 16% occurred during the six months before then. Approximately 30 million adult Internet users believe they have definitely experienced a phishing attack, and another 27 million believe they have observed what looked like a phishing attack, Gartner analysts say. And the phishing has been good. Gartner estimates that about 19% of those attacked, or nearly 11 million U.S. adult Internet users, have clicked on the link in a phishing attack e-mail. And 3% of those attacked, or an estimated 1.78 million adults, report giving phishers their financial or other personal information. The data indicate that “phishing attack victims are almost three times as prone to identity-theft related fraud as other online consumers,” Litan says. “Anyway you look at it, the crooks are achieving their goals.” Digitally signed e-mail and managed anti-phishing services are among emerging solutions to the problem, and the time has come, the Gartner vice president says. “Service providers have no choice but to combat these fraudulent e-mails if networked computing is to become more trusted as a favored channel for customer transactions,” Litan says. -

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