A perfect visualization of phishing can be achieved be reading this one article, entitled Phishing Is Big Business. Dennis Fisher cuts to the chase, and give readers the low down on how phishers operate, and why they are so damn hard to catch.
Phishing works in much the same way drug dealing does, and the associations with the criminal element are very similar as well. But while narcotics trafficking can be just if not more lucrative from the revenue line, I believe it is total return on capital employed that might make phishing the illegal business game of the 21st century.
While cocaine and heroin are extremely profitable, albeit risky opportunities, they require vast amounts of infrastructure. You need land to grow coca and poppy, and the locations are inaccessible and extremely dangerous (places like the Central American high-country and Afghanistan). Then you have to process, package and distribute the goods, while warlords and your competitors are trying to kill you.
To be a phisher, all you need is access to the internet (available almost everywhere EXCEPT the Central American high-country and Afghanistan), a laptop with free database and email software on it, and someone who can write some code. That combination describes virtually every member of Slashdot (not to say they would do such a thing).
Furthermore (and as the eWeek production points out with crystal clarity), the lack of infrastructure allows phishers to come and go with the wind, making them very difficult to pinpoint and capture. Combine that with a gullible public, and you have a recipe for making huge ching.
I have a feeling the digital frontier has a long ways to go before this problem is put to rest. It will likely get much worse before it gets a smidgen better. In the meantime, education, and communication of the issues is the best course of action.
And with that, lets all thank Dennis Fisher of eWeek.