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Bush Takes a Stand Against ID Theft


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Wednesday, July 21, 2004; 8:53 AM

There's no question that identity theft and online fraud are illegal, but Congress and the president are going to make it even more illegal! President Bush last Thursday signed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, a bill that adds two years to the prison sentences of people who use stolen credit card numbers and other personal data in the commission of another crime. People who use that data to commit a "terrorist" act would get an extra five years at their sentencing. Supporters of the bill hope that it will bolster confidence among the nation's growing ranks of Internet users that cyberspace is a safe place to shop and maintain their personal finances. Identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2003 and is becoming more prevalent online, especially in "phishing schemes" (see the item below).

Computer Guy John Gilroy, meanwhile, answers a more basic question in his most recent column: "Why should I bother buying a copy of Norton AntiVirus 2004 in the store instead of just downloading it?" Gilroy's answer? It costs $50 either way, and buying it in the box could be even easier for computer users who aren't going to win any technology scholarships at MIT anytime soon.

While we're on the computer security front, it's critical that Microsoft Windows users download a new series of patches that the company released this month. More information on that is available in last week's e-letter, as well as at Microsoft's security and Windows Update Web sites.

And electronic voting is not the only topic generating Internet fear and loathing on the campaign trail this election season. Minnesota entrepreneur Larry Colson has developed WebVoter, a program that lets Republican activists in the state report their neighbors' political views into a central database that the Bush-Cheney campaign can use to send them targeted campaign literature. The Bush campaign has a similar program on its Web site. And here's Colson's response to anyone who feels a privacy qualm or two about this program: "[It's] not as if we're asking for Social Security number and make and model and serial number of car. We're asking for party preference... Party preference is not something that is such a personal piece of data."

Phishing for IM Buddies

Online fraudsters appear to be learning how to use America Online's instant messaging chat software to trick people into giving up their personal data. Using a scam known as "phishing," they send unsuspecting IM users a message warning that their AOL billing information must be renewed or their accounts will be suspended. Recipients who click on the link are directed to a site that mimics AOL's members page, which asks for the user to type in their screen name, password, address, credit card number and personal identification number.

The scam was publicized by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a group of Internet service providers, banks and other companies that tries to fight the spread of online fraud. The working group urges Internet users to be suspicious of any e-mail with urgent requests for personal financial information, and to avoid filling out forms in e-mail or other online messages that ask for personal and financial information. Instead, consider calling the company on the phone, or logging into the company's Web site directly by typing the Web address in your Internet browser.

More advice on how to avoid falling prey to phishing scams can be found at and at the working group's site. Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bill that would toughen criminal penalties against phishers.


The group that oversees the Internet's addressing system says it is one step closer to severing its ties to the United States government.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has completed seven of the 21 tasks set forth in its agreement with the U.S. Commerce Department, including the development of a contingency plan to keep the Internet under stable management in the event of a catastrophe, its senior members announced on Monday at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Formed in 1998, ICANN makes decisions about what Internet domains (like dot-com, and dot-info) are allowed to exist and the terms under which domain names (like your average Web site address) are sold. The non-profit corporation, based in Marina del Rey, Calif., was formed to move the Internet's management out of the immediate purview of the U.S. government. The group's board boasts members from six continents but remains under contract to the Commerce Department, causing some foreign technology experts to complain that the United States has too much control over the Internet.

Assistant Commerce Secretary Michael Gallagher applauded ICANN's news, but said, "Clearly more work remains to be done for ICANN to achieve functional, sustainable independence."

--By staff Home

© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive

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