AOL begins campaign to block phishing sites

America Online Inc. (AOL) has begun a campaign to identify and block fraudulent Web sites that attempt to solicit personal information from visitors, it said Wednesday.

The crackdown against so-called "phishing" sites is being conducted in partnership with online security provider Cyota Inc., which provides antifraud services for financial institutions. AOL and Cyota will try to identify potential phishing sites and limit access to them from AOL's client software, the companies said.

AOL wants to block access to sites that spoof pages from its own service, as well as those that imitate other legitimate businesses such as banks, credit card providers and online auctioneers. AOL subscribers can report suspected phishing sites by using a "report spam" button in AOL's software, and users who try to access known phishing sites will be notified that they are visiting a potentially dangerous site, AOL said.

E-mail phishing scams direct people to fraudulent Web sites where they are asked to enter information such as bank account details and passwords. Phishing is one of the fastest growing forms of online crime. The average monthly growth rate of phishing sites from July 2004 to February was 26 percent, according to data from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). As of February, there were 2,625 reported active phishing sites, the APWG said.

AOL is not alone in its attempt to crack down on such scams. In February, Microsoft Corp., eBay Inc. and Visa International Inc. launched a program to share information about phishing attacks called the Phish Report Network. And the APWG has over 1,200 members, including many U.S. banks, ISPs (Internet service providers) and technology companies, working together to eliminate online theft.

AOL's antiphishing campaign is part of a broader initiative by the ISP to increase security for its users by blocking spam, working with law enforcement and other measures. The Dulles, Va., company said it plans to roll out new and stronger initiatives to fight phishing and identity thieves in coming months.

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