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UK punters still falling for phishers

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UK punters are still failing to take basic precautions when banking online despite a wealth of available advice, according to a recent survey by banking association APACS.

Although net users are aware of scams such as "phishing" and Trojan attacks, they remain complacent. APACS advises the estimated 15.7m people who regularly use the internet to access their current, savings and credit card accounts to do their homework, unless they want to leave themselves at greater risk to fraud.

Around 3.8 per cent of 1,835 UK adults quizzed in the survey said they would still respond to an unsolicited email asking them to follow a link and re-enter personal security details, supposedly from their bank. Such emails are the staples of phishing fraud. Awareness of the problem is little better than that evident from an equivalent survey from APACS two years ago. At that time, four per cent of those polled indicated they might respond to this type of potentially fraudulent email.

More people than before are likely to check an email's validity with their bank before responding (39 per cent in 2006 compared to 28 per cent in 2004), but only half of those quizzed ignored these emails compared to 65 per cent in 2004.

Divorced, separated or widowed people tended to be more cautious about responding to unsolicited emails supposedly from their bank. By contrast, single and married people were more likely not to notice anything untoward in potential phishing emails. APACS advises punters to treat every unsolicited email with caution and never to respond to such messages with sensitive personal information.

We, the unprotected (mostly)

Less than half of those surveyed (46.3 per cent) regularly update their anti-virus software, with only one in 10 people having anti-spam software installed and about a third having a firewall. Even worse, just over one third (35 per cent) of punters record their password or security information by either writing it down or storing it somewhere on their computer. Nearly two thirds (62.5 per cent) never change their password and one in five use the same password for non-banking websites as well as their online bank, both serious security no-nos.

Older users are the worst password security culprits. Only half the over 55 year olds quizzed memorise their password without writing it down, compared to 73 per cent of 18-24 year olds. However, under 24-year-olds were more susceptible to scam emails that ostensible from their bank. Over 12 per cent said they would click on a link contained in unsolicited emails and divulge security information – three times higher than the national average.

The number of phishing attacks has risen dramatically by more than 800 per cent over the 12 months up to August 2006, according to APACS, with a peak figure of 1,484 incidents last month. The surge in phishing attacks is mainly due to banks and internet companies getting better at quickly identifying and closing down phishing sites, which has meant fraudsters have ramped up the volume of attacks.

APACS, the UK's payment association, has the job of co-ordinating the banking industry's efforts in combating online banking fraud, as well as compiling loss statistics. It estimated that total online banking losses last year reached £23.2m, a figure it expects will grow this year.

"The internet has totally changed the way we shop and bank, and it's very safe provided you remember two simple rules: use a secure PC and be wary of unsolicited emails," Sandra Quinn, director of corporate communications at APACS.

"This new research shows that some people still aren't doing all they should to protect themselves which, hand in hand with a large increase in phishing email attacks at the start of the year, leads us to expect an increase in online banking fraud losses in the first half of 2006."

A plethora of advice on how to bank safely online can be found at websites such as banksafeonline and cardwatch. ®

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