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WASHINGTON – A coalition of government agencies, consumer groups and VISA USA has launched a campaign to educate Americans on how to guard against phishing scams. Incidents of phishing – e-mail attempts to convince customers to reveal personal account information through e-mail replies or real-looking Web sites – have been soaring and some studies show that as many as 5% of online consumers have been reeled in at least once. VISA, the U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and Call for Action (a coalition of consumer hotlines) will work to educate the public on how to identify phishing scams, avoid becoming a victim, and how to report a suspicious e-mail. “Consumers should know how these scams work and should be suspicious of any e-mail that requests account information.” said Visa USA Executive Vice President Doug Michelman. The basics will be stressed. For example, while financial institutions do send consumers e-mail that directs them to Web sites, it’s best to go directly to the actual Web site by entering the URL rather than linking from the e-mail. Each of the campaign’s partners will have a role: * VISA USA will be working with its issuers by providing cardholder statement inserts. * The BBB will inform consumers by issuing media alerts through local BBBs, publishing articles in local newsletters and on local Bureau Web sites, and encouraging BBBOnLine participating merchants and other BBB members to link from their Web sites to anti-phishing resources on the bbb.org site. * Call for Action will notify its network of consumer hotlines and inform consumers through its broadcast network of 24 top-rated radio and television stations, which reaches more than 40 million consumers. Call for Action also will help victims of identity theft by providing counselors through a toll-free hotline sponsored by Visa. The toll-free number is 1-866-ID-HOTLINE. * The FTC maintains a site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft with consumer and business education materials about identity theft. Consumers can learn how to prevent identity theft and what to do if their identity is stolen. They can also file complaints with the FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT. “As identity thieves change their tactics, public awareness becomes even more important. We applaud the many efforts of business in America to take up this cause and welcome opportunities to work together to end this despicable crime,” said Wayne Abernathy, assistant secretary for financial institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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