Internet fraudsters are exploiting the banking meltdown by attempting to trick users into handing over details of their bank accounts.

These crooks – called Phishers – set up false websites which look like the websites of real banks and send out emails trying to get people to log on to these sites and by so doing reveal their passwords and bank account details. The crooks then clean out the real account. These emails are simply sent out at random and I get quite a few each week myself – even from banks which I have no account with. The phishers don’t care – there are enough mugs who have accounts who will respond.

Until now the emails usually posed as security checks from a bank but the latest version of the scam imitates communiqués about bank mergers. For example Wachovia ranked second on a list of the banks most targeted by phishing attacks last month prior to its proposed purchase by Citibank and now that Wells Fargo have succeeded in their bid the

The American consumer watchdog the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning on Thursday called Bank Failures, Mergers and Takeovers: A “Phish-erman’s Special” – and a copy can be found here.

Although phishing scams have been around for years there are still enough mugs around to keep the scam profitable, even without considering the extra confusion added by the current banking crisis. The current confusion is also masking the fact that a recipient might not have an account at the bank and plays on the natural fear that account holders have about the security of their money.

It has been reported by the UK banking association (APACS) that more than 20,000 fraudulent phishing websites were established in the first half of 2008, almost treble the figure of the previous year. Online banking losses came in at £21.4m for the first six months of 2008, a big increase from £7.5m last year, which APACS blames largely on phishing and spyware-related scams. View their report here.

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