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Phishers Pick $2.8 Billion From Consumers' Pockets

Criminals running phishing scams are raking in more money than ever, with the average loss jumping fivefold in the last year and the percentage of money recovered plummeting, according to a survey published Thursday by research firm Gartner.

"Phishing e-mails are getting through, and when they do steal, phishers are getting five times the amount they did in 2005," said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan. "They're getting better, much better, at their schemes." Litan pegged the total loss to phishing in the 12 months ending Aug. 30 at a whopping $2.8 billion.

Although some analysts have pegged phishing attacks as leveling off, Litan scoffed at the notion. "It was presumptuous of us to think that phishing would be solved, much like spam has been, and would be only so much 'noise' on the Internet," Litan said.

According to Litan's research, almost twice as many Americans admitted that they'd received a phishing e-mail in 2006 as did in 2004. The survey's tallies correlate to 109 million consumers seeing an attack in 2006, compared to 79 million in 2005 and just 57 million in 2004. More consumers also acknowledged that they'd gone as far as to actually click on a link in a phishing e-mail; in 2006, the percentage of those who said they'd received a phish and clicked on a link was nearly 25 percent. In 2005, the number was only 15 percent.

Even more distressing, said Litan, was that while the number of people who said they'd lost money to online fraud went down by 24 percent, the average loss skyrocketed from $257 in 2005 to $1,244 in 2006. Worse, the percentage of the lost money that was recovered or refunded to the consumer dropped precipitously.

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