Friday Edition: Phishing for Dollars

Phishing attacks, those e-mails that we all seem to get that look like inquiries from banks or legitimate online sites, are continuing at sky-high levels.

The Anti-Phishing Working Group said this week that every month since November, attacks have grown at a rate of 28 percent. That means they are doubling every three or four months.

Last month alone, there were reports of more than 1,500 phishing sites. They are hard to crack and most are based in the United States. Last month alone, there were more than 8,400 new phishing e-mails that flew around inside computers.

More than 100 different brands have been victims, with the most common ones being financial institutions such as banks. Earthlink was particularly hit last month when e-mails tried to dupe Earthlink customers into giving up personal information.

Below is a sample of companies or other organizations that have published policies relating to e-mail fraud and phishing attacks:

Here are some other resources from the website:

FBI -- Internet Fraud Complaint Center
The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IFCC's mission is to address fraud committed over the Internet.

The Coalition on Online Identity Theft
Information Technology Association of
America (ITAA)
Some of the biggest names in e-commerce, including, eBay, and Microsoft, have formed a coalition to curb online identity theft.

The United States Federal Trade Commission
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is a nonprofit consumer education, research, and advocacy program. Our publications empower you to take action to control your personal information by providing practical tips on privacy protection.

Nigeria -- The 419 Coalition Website
We Fight the Nigerian Scam with Education. Its a $5 billion (as of 1996, much more now) worldwide scam which has run since the early 1980's under Successive Governments of Nigeria. It is also referred to as "Advance Fee Fraud," "419 Fraud" (Four-One-Nine) after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria.

A piece for the L.A. Times points out that real people get hurt by these scams. And often they are left to fight the fraud by themselves.

Drowning in Applications

For a lot of high school students, holiday vacation time will be spent filling out mountains of college applications.

Many schools have January application deadlines. Students have been at the task for months, in some cases.

Why is the application process so complex and competitive? U.S. News & World Report gives some insight:

Part of the answer, admissions gurus say, lies in the sheer numbers of students striving to get into college. There are over 600,000 more 17-year-olds than there were 10 years ago, and more kids than ever have their eyes on college -- 3 of every 4 schools reported a jump in apps last year. As elite colleges become more selective, seniors are applying to more schools to cover their bases: In 1983, only 10 percent of undergrads at four-year schools had applied to six or more colleges; by last year the figure had jumped to nearly 25 percent. With applications flooding the system, the difficulty colleges have sorting through them has been compounded by grade inflation. In 1973, just 20 percent of students earned A averages in high school; 30 years later, fully 47 percent did. For many colleges, the best way to differentiate a mass of applicants whose stats look awfully similar is to require as much extra information as possible.

States Want Cuba Deals, Feds Don't

This week, at least 10 states are being represented at a trade fair in Havana, trying to drum up agriculture deals with Cuba. reports:

State officials from Alabama, Louisiana, and Maine will visit a Cuban cigar factory and tour a rum museum this week while encouraging President Fidel Castro's communist regime to buy more U.S. agricultural products.

The story says:

Despite the Bush administration's hard line, U.S. trade with Cuba has grown steadily and reached $321 million this year as of September. Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill., ranked first among all U.S. companies, exporting $8.9 million worth of corn to Cuba last year.

Maine, California, and Texas have passed resolutions encouraging trade with Cuba, and more than half the states are making sales there. Among the top U.S. exporters to Cuba are North Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. Other states active in Cuban trade are Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas, according to federal trade data.

  • Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) signed an agreement in January with Cuba's largest food importer aimed at increasing trade.

  • A South Carolina delegation signed a similar agreement.

  • South Dakota's delegation agreed to sell 5,000 metric tons of peas in October.

  • Vermont contracted in August to send $6 million in powdered milk to Cuba.

  • Montana agreed in September 2003 to sell $10 million in farm products to Cuba such as wheat, dry beans, and peas.

Retiree Health Benefits

A new Kaiser study says the days when your employer provides even part of your health benefits after you retire are quickly fading. Even those that still will pay for health care for retirees are shifting more of the cost to the former workers.

This is not only an issue for current retirees, but it is a huge concern for baby boomers who will begin retiring in the next decade. How will they/we pay for health care? Will we just work longer to keep health insurance?

Between 1988 and 2004, the share of large employers (200 or more employees) offering retiree health benefits declined from 66 percent to 36 percent, a trend which is likely to increase the number of future retirees without such coverage. Retiree health benefits have become a focal point in negotiations between labor and management, and retiree health costs have been cited as a factor in recent bankruptcy filings. Of critical concern is the extent to which these negotiations will result in benefit terminations or cost-shifting to retirees, particularly among financially distressed companies.

What's behind the big cut in retirement health benefits? It is, of course, cost. The study says that between 2003 and this year, the cost of that health care rose more than 12 percent.

It is worth noting that the report says virtually no company it surveyed is considering dropping benefits to current retirees. Most still think there will be some kind of health benefit for current workers who are yet to retire. But what the benefit will include is far from certain (see page xvi of the report).

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor's Note: Al's Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of websites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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