updated 8/25/2005 8:50:35 PM ET 2005-08-26T00:50:35

Microsoft Corp. will soon make available to the general public a tool for warning users about "phishing" scams that could lead to identity theft.

Currently, such a tool comes only with the Internet Explorer 7 browser, which is available in tests only to a select group of developers.

But within a few weeks, Microsoft will incorporate it into a toolbar for older versions of IE. While still officially a test, the anti-phishing tool will be available to anyone running the Windows XP operating system with the Service Pack 2 security upgrade from last summer. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The company will eventually make it available to older Windows systems, too.

The tool was built to address scammers who try to trick people into revealing passwords by posing as legitimate banking or e-commerce site. When an unfamiliar site is encountered, users have the option of passing that address to Microsoft to check against a database of known phishing sites. A "red" warning page appears when there's a match.

Even when there isn't a match, the tool will display a pop-up "yellow" warning when it sees telltale signs of phishing, such as the lack of SSL encryption when submitting passwords.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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