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Phishing scams thrive in the UK

Peers hear losses set to reach £45.7m for 2006

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UK incidents of phishing scams have grown 8,000 per cent over the last two years, according to the government's financial watchdog authority. Although losses remain modest compared to other forms of financial fraud, banking security experts speaking before the House of Lords science and technology committee are concerned about the growing prevalence of scams designed to trick consumers into handing over online banking credentials.

Rob Gruppetta, of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) financial crime team, told the parliamentary committee, "We are very concerned about the rate of increase. It has gone up by 8,000 per cent in the past two years. But in the grand scheme of total fraud it is still quite small," he added.

Between January and June 2005, 312 phishing incidents were recorded, a figure that shot up to 5,059 for the first half of 2006, according to figures from UK banking payment organisation Apacs. Improved detection rates are partly behind the increase but even so the growing sophistication of scammers is leading to heavy losses from UK banks.

Apacs security chief Philip Whitaker told peers that scammers had transformed phishing scams from a cottage industry into an industrial process.

An estimated £23.2m was stolen from UK online bank accounts using email scams in the first half of 2006, with a slight decreases in losses to £22.5m for the second half of the year, the BBC reports. In the year prior to October 2004, Apacs estimated phishing cost UK banks £4.5m, which compares to a £45.7m estimated loss for 2006. Despite growing losses, security experts testified that online banking was essentially safe.

Although conceding that was a case for banks to be more transparent about losses to fraud, Philip Robinson, the FSA's head of financial crime, rejected suggestions from peers that US-style information security breach disclosure laws would build consumer confidence. He said issuing alerts in cases where, for example, laptops containing sensitive information were stolen would only cause "undue alarm" to customers. The FSA is meeting with the Information Commissioner next week for talks on how banks might become more open about fraud while still maintaining confidence in the banking system, Robinson added. ®

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