Update: Shortly after this report was published, Google removed YourBofA.com from its "phishing scams" blacklist
Search giant Google blacklisted on Wednesday a website made to look like an outreach campaign by Bank of America, in what turned out to be an activist's effort to get people talking about how the nation's largest bank should operate.
Users of the Firefox and Google Chrome browsers were being warned on Wednesday of a "phishing scam" behind YourBofA.com, which Google's Safe Browsing API is supposed to guard against. Phishing scams are typically criminal websites that masquerade as an official corporate site, in an attempt to steal personal information.
An examination of the YourBofA.com site revealed no forms soliciting personal information. A secondary scan using web trust certified tools revealed that no spyware or other malicious software existed on the domain. It's likely that Bank of America reported the site to Google as a phishing scam, but a representative was unavailable for comment at time of this story's publication. Other major web services that filter user links, like Facebook and Twitter, were not alerting users to any potential harm from the site.
It does, however, feature messages like, "I want my bank to let grandmas stay in houses they've owned their whole lives," and, "Bank of America will no longer provide financing to the coal industry." Another interactive page lets users create their own Bank of America advertising slogan, and the site promotes a taxpayer takeover of the bank under federal receivership rules.
"Federal receivership, an age-old practice born of age-old necessity, will save us, and our entire economy, from the worst consequences of collapse — but it will also mean that, moving forward, a new set of eyes, brains, hands, and guts will direct our course: yours," the site's "It's All Yours" page explains.
A press release for the fake Bank of America campaign was emailed to reporters Wednesday morning, but corporate representatives immediately said it was fake. Reached by a reporter at The Wall Street Journal who called a phone number on the press release, a man calling himself "Bengo Guenther" claimed that he works for "a number of large companies on their campaign to ameliorate their position -- their social and spiritual position perhaps you could say."
No groups have come forward to claim responsibility for the website as of yet, but it has the distinct ring of a "Yes Men" project, especially considering that Bank of America will release its quarterly earnings statement tomorrow.
The Yes Men are media activists who pull hoaxes to help shame corporations into doing the right thing. Some of their previous stunts included a fake edition of The New York Times and a live interview on BBC during which one of their members claimed Dow would spend billions to clean up the Bhopal disaster. That interview was scheduled after a BBC producer fell for a fake website, DowEthics.com, that seems remarkably similar to the YourBofA.com site. Unlike YourBofA.com, DowEthics.com is not blacklisted by Google.
A similar problem recently affected The Pirate Bay, a media-sharing website that distributes Torrent files, which enable users to share virtually anything they want. A link to its sister-site, The Promo Bay, where legitimate artists go to promote their work, was added to a blacklist managed by Microsoft's SmartScreen technology just last month, rendering users of the Microsoft Messenger program incapable of sharing links to the site.
Google says it tries to react quickly to reports of websites that have been improperly blacklisted, however a representative was unavailable to comment on the mistaken categorization. An email to an address listed on YourBofA.com was also returned undelivered.
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