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Scam emails which attempts to fool Barclays Bank customers into handing over sensitive account information has been sent to thousands of Web users this week.

The fake emails, which appear to have been spammed at users at random, purport to be part of a security check. Barclays customers receiving the emails are been encouraged to enter their details to fraudulent sites. As is common with such scams, the URL used in the emails is cleverly encoded to disguise the true location of the sites. The destination pages are designed to look like the genuine Barclays site. Only tell-tale signs, easily overlooked, like the title of the destination page "Barclays IBank" and the URLs of the fake sites give the game away.

Alex Shipp, of managed security services firm MessageLabs, told The Register that his firm alone has blocked the scam email hundreds of times.

"We are currently stopping hundreds of spams an hour directing Barclays Bank customers to fake login sites where you are invited to enter your username and password. The bad guys then log these, and clean out your account," Shipp said.

"The URL looks like it points to www.barclays.co.uk. However, it points to one of at least eight fake sites."

Checks suggest the fake sites are hosted by hosting firms Alabanza of Baltimore, Maryland and Affinity Internet, of El Segundo, California. We've notified both companies about the issue.

A Barclays spokeswoman confirmed it was aware of the scam. It advises users to avoid divulging account information in response to these emails. Users are advised to contact the bank directly if they have any questions or concerns.

The bank has informed the police and is looking to have the offending Web sites taken off the Net, she added.

The Barclays scam is similar to a scheme targeting Citibank customers that did the rounds last month (prompting a warning from Citibank), which is itself similar to numerous frauds targeting users of eBay, PayPal and other large ecommerce firms in the past. However, the prevalence of the Barclays scam emails is something slightly out of the ordinary. Its worth remembering that the scam doesn't rely on compromising a targeted organisation's systems.

We can expect similar scams in the future. Users should routinely ignore such emails or risk becoming the victim of identity theft, one of the fastest growing Net crimes. ®

The scam email:

Dear Valued Customer,

- Our new security system will help you to avoid
frequently fraud transactions and to keep your
investments in safety.

- Due to technical update we recommend you to
reactivate your account.

Click on the link below to login and begin using
your updated Barclays account.

To log into your account, please visit the NetBank
website at http://www.barclays.co.uk

If you have questions about your online statement,
please send us a Bank Mail or call us at
0846 600 2323 (outside the UK dial +44 247 686 2063).

We appreciate your business. It's truly our
pleasure to serve you.

Barclays Customer Care

This email is for notification only. To contact us,
please log into your account and send a Bank Mail.

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