Home computer users are now the favourite targets of hi-tech criminals, reveals research.
More phishing scams are being aimed at home users
The report by security firm Symantec found that cyber criminals are targeting home PC owners because they are the easiest to catch out.
It saw an 81% rise in phishing messages which attempt to trick people into handing over personal details.
Another study by a banking industry body shows many home users do not take basic steps to stay safe online.
Criminals typically use bogus or booby-trapped e-mail messages to lure people into handing over banking details.
Symantec's bi-annual Internet Threat Report said that more than 157,000 unique phishing messages were sent during the first six months of 2006.
The phishing messages were getting much more sophisticated to make them more effective, said Ollie Whitehouse, Symantec research scientist and one of the authors of the report.
STAYING SAFE ONLINE
Install anti-virus software
On at least a weekly basis update anti-virus and spyware products
Install a personal firewall and/or ensure your operating system's firewall is on
Use Windows and Apple updates to patch security holes
Do not open e-mail messages that look suspicious
Do not click on e-mail attachments you were not expecting
Take time to educate yourself and family about the risks
Monitor your computer and stay alert to threats
"Organised crime is here and they are very interested in phishing," he said. "They target home users who have become the weakest link."
Many gangs trawl the net for more information about those they target with messages.
"Most people, by now, have left a digital footprint which can be mined," Mr Whitehouse said.
Phishing gangs were also starting to target the customers of smaller banks and financial institutions. In early September the Anti-Phishing Working Group said that in the last year the number of bank "brands" targeted had doubled.
The Symantec report comes as the banking industry body the Association of Payment and Clearing Services reveals research which shows the risks people take online.
Only half of the consumers surveyed for the report said they would ignore phishing e-mail messages and 3.8% said they would respond to an unsolicited e-mail about their online accounts.
The survey also found that less than half of those questioned, 46.3%, kept their anti-virus software up to date. Only 10% had spam-stopping software installed.
"Clearly, it's a concern that so many internet users are still not aware of simple security advice," said an Apacs spokeswoman.