Scam emails trying to con customers of Halifax, Nationwide and Citibank into handing over sensitive account information circulated widely over the Internet this weekend.
The emails, posing as a security check from the banks involved, take the same form as other 'phishing' scam emails which targeted NatWest bank customers last Friday.
Potential victims are encouraged to verify their account information at fraudulent sites such as http://www.nationwide.co.uk:ac=u5t4cBr5ogytNEE6V6Lg@ShOrTwAy.To/n2r5j4/?Cqw2ZJUAhJ6LPAP, which pose as the real thing.
As explained here, the weird looking address takes advantage of several things most people don't know about the structure of a valid URL.
The main trick is that anything between "http://" and "@" is completely irrelevant, so the Nationwide scam site is actually ShOrTwAy.To/n2r5j4/?Cqw2ZJUAhJ6LPAP.
Nearly one in 50 emails attempt ID theft
Users are advised to ignore the scam emails, which are becoming increasingly common. Typically these fraudulent emails are sent to numerous people using spamming software in the hope of reeling in a few victims.
Spam, which accounted for more than 50 per cent of all email messages sent over the Internet, is increasingly being used for criminal activity in the US and Europe, according to antispam specialist Brightmail.
Brightmail reckons that various forms of scams account for one in ten of the spam messages it blocked in August, with 17 per cent of these involving identity theft or phishing scams.
Anatomy of a scam
Following the increased prevalence of such scams over the last two months, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and leading banking associations APACS and the BBA earlier this week issued a checklist for UK consumers designed to help them protect themselves against Internet fraudsters.
The NHTCU warned last week that phishing (conning people into giving access details to online bank accounts) is only the first part of a two-stage scam.
The second phase of the scam involves trying to recruit British people with online accounts to act as agents to transfer money abroad. This is necessary because the fraudsters themselves are located outside Britain and therefore unable to transfer cash from their victims' accounts directly.
Are banks doing enough/
Some observers believe that banks need to do more to protect their users from scam artists.
Andrew Goodwill, of anti-fraud site Early Warning, commented: "The banking industry has an obligation to its customers to allow them to access their bank accounts in a secure manner. It should not be up to the customer to make the decision whether an email they receive asking them to update their bank details is genuine or not."
Banks never send out requests for account information by email but for Goodwill this is beside the point.
"Most members of the public do not have the skills involved to verify whether an email has come from their bank or from Joe rip-off merchant in Russia. So far the banking industry has sat back and allowed this security flaw to exist. The only way members of the public get to hear about these emails is through the press long after the emails have been distributed."
"ISPs are also to blame for hosting sites for these scamsters and I believe that ISPs should be more aware of the activities of there customers whilst using there servers," he added. ®
UK banks and police proffer anti-phishing advice
NatWest customers targeted in 'phishing' scam
Lloyds TSB phishing scam nipped in the bud
Email fraudsters target Barclays
MS, eBay, Amazon et al join ID theft busters
Accused AOL phisher spammed the FBI
ID theft hits 10m Americans a year