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Phishers Took Popular Brands Within Their Realms

Known for their scheming abilities, phishers have again become offensive. This time they are exploiting reputable consumer brands to induce people to join fake sweepstakes and reveal sensitive information.

In November 2006, an e-mail purportedly coming from a sales and marketing manager of a Coca-Cola unit in Hong Kong offered a Mercedes-Benz ML Jeep convertible and an opportunity to win $800,000 cash if entries were submitted through a link in the e-mail. Another such mail came in March 2006 from McDonald's Corp. and JPMorgan Chase. It held out a 50% discount at McDonald's valid for 10 days, with an offer of a subsequent 30% discount if customers registered themselves at a JPMorgan Chase-branded promotional site.

These initiatives are merely "phishing" attempts and do not represent concentrated interactive sales efforts. Anyone knowing that a "Mercedes-Benz ML Jeep convertible" does not really exist could have dismissed the first mail out of hand. John Roberts, Vice-President, Product, of OpenDNS says that the glossy Coke insignia is really a bait to customers to open phishing mail and click on the links. People are bound to be attracted by a brand that has taken decades to earn credibility.

The AntiPhishing.Org says that the number of specialized phishing URLs made a spectacular jump and reached to more than 37,000 in October 2006, which represents a 757% growth from the number that prevailed in October 2005. Phishers exploited around 176 brands in October.

Beyond the legal implications for brands of the current phishing tactics, these hoaxes can diminish the faith of consumers in a company and tarnish brand reputation. Dave Jevans, Chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, advises companies to take action on e-mails sent to consumers in the name of a brand. Else, customers will think the company website has been invaded and personal information stolen.

Till recently, fake offers limited themselves to fool people into giving personal or financial information or only banking and transaction-based brands were targeted. However, the scams are now extending to non-financial consumer brands as phishers fix on to reputable and reliable logos as temptations.

Related article: Phishers Expand Their Sphere of Attacks

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