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Cybercrooks have adapted to the global economic crisis with scams based on topical subjects such as refinancing or unemployment in a bid to reel in vulnerable marks.

A survey by brand protection firm MarkMonitor on four leading financial brands reveals that fraudsters are targeting vulnerable individuals looking for ways to keep their head above water during tough times economically. "Scammers are preying upon consumer hardship, demonstrating incredible creativity in combining technology, social engineering techniques and current events," said Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer at MarkMonitor.

As part of its Brandjacking Index exercise, MarkMonitor sifted through 134 million public domain records, countless web pages and billions of spam email messages searching for scams focusing on terms such as foreclosure, mortgage, refinance and unemployed.

It found numerous example of phishing and suspected domain squatting. More than 7,300 cybersquatted domains were located, 16 per cent of which were established after September 2008. Crooks registered domains that incorporated the name of the four targeted brands with "credit crunch relief" terms at the rate of more than one domain per day between September 2008 and April 2009, MarkMonitor reports.

Phishing attacks against the same four financial brands hit 10,000 during Q1 2009, a 36 per cent increase from the previous quarter.

Looking at phishing fraud more generally, MarkMonitor found that 93 organisations were phished for the first time in Q1 2009. Four in five (82 per cent) were financial brands.

Payment service providers, more even than banks and financial services firms, bore the brunt of scam email attacks, featuring in 42 per cent of scam emails. Attacks on social media websites trebled, albeit from a previously miniscule base.

In related news, US consumer watchdog the Federal Trade Commission is due to launch a campaign targeting recession-themed scams. Operation Short Change - more details on which are expected to emerge at a launch event on Wednesday - will also bring the Department of Justice on board in a law enforcement sweep "cracking down on frauds fueled by the economic downturn". ®

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