Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 12:38 UK

Bank turmoil fuels phishing boom

Wachovia cash machines, Getty
Customers of struggling banks are being targeted by fraudsters

Hi-tech fraudsters are taking advantage of the global financial turmoil, say governments and security experts.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning saying phishing gangs were using the turmoil to extract valuable information from consumers.

A UK parliamentary group said it expected a move away from ID theft towards attacks on account holders.

The news comes as a UK banking group reveals that phishing attacks were up more than 180% in a year.

Fresh targets

The FTC said the current rapid changes in the banking world, where many institutions suddenly had new owners, could only help fraudsters keen to steal login and other personal details.

"Scammers are taking advantage of upheavals in the financial marketplace to confuse consumers into parting with valuable personal information," it warned.

It said it expected fraudsters to pose as the new owners of banks or the federal agencies charged with oversight of struggling institutions.

The FTC urged consumers to be wary and not reply to e-mail messages or pop-ups that ask for personal or financial information even if they appeared to come from a bank. Consumers should also scrutinise bank and credit card statements for unauthorised withdrawals or transfers.

Secure Computing said its October spam report showed that many of the banks and other financial institutions caught up in the turmoil were topping its list of phishing targets.

Chase, Wachovia and Bank of America were among the most popular targets with scammers, it said.

The company said it expected British banks to be popular too in the coming weeks as changes and mergers are completed.

In its second annual report, the All Parliamentary Group on ID Fraud said tighter credit lending rules would lead to more attempts to get at existing bank accounts.

"There is no longer a guarantee that they will get credit by applying assuming another person's identity, so they are instead tapping into accounts which already exist," read the report.

Fraud figures released in early October by the Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), which represents UK banks, show a steep rise in the number of phishing attacks even before the turmoil in the banking world began.

From January to June 2008 phishing attacks rose by 186% on the same period in 2007, it said. In total it saw more than 20,682 phishing incidents during that six month period.

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