Online payment website PayPal has again become the victim of a copycat site which tricks its customers into divulging sensitive account and billing information.
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PayPal customers are directed to the site, www.paypal-billingnetwork.net, by an e-mail message which appears to come from the company. The message, signed by a "Jhon Krepp" from the "PayPal Billing Department", claims that because of a "recent system flush", the customer's billing and personal information is "temporaly unavailable" (sic).
It goes on to say that customers need to verify their identity by visiting the site or risk having their account cancelled. The site itself is almost identical to the PayPal site, carying the same graphics, layout and wording.Many of the links on the site point back to the genuine PayPal Web site.
PayPal could not be reached for comment about the scam site.
Visitors to the paypal-billingnetwork.net site are greeted with an authentic-sounding pop-up message.
"We've worked hard to help make PayPal even better! However, we have to ask you to re-enter your Billing Information," the message reads. Visitors are then asked to have their last PayPal billing statement and credit cards handy before entering the site.
The message warns PayPal members that if they do not enter their billing information they will have their PayPal accounts cancelled.
After acknowledging this message, users are presented with a form asking for a wide range of personal and financial information including social security number, driver's licence number, date of birth and credit card information.
Unlike much of the rest of the site, however, the form does not reside on PayPal's website, but on a server at a different IP address.
Paypal-billingnetwork.net is registered through Vancouver, Washington-based web hosting company Dotster, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Security experts said this was yet another example of brand spooking which, they say, is a growing problem.
On Tuesday, e-mail filtering company SurfControl, issued a warning about brand spoofing, saying it has noticed a jump since March in unsolicited e-mail messages tied to fraudulent brand spoofing scams.
Like the most recent PayPal scam, the fraudulent e-mail messages pretend to be from customer service or security officials at well-known companies and direct the spam recipient to phony websites whichharvest their confidential information, SurfControl said.
PayPal has long been the target of online criminals. Recently, however, other high-profile companies have been the targets of brand spoofing, including Best Buy and Discover Financial Services DiscoverCard.
Sony, United Parcel Services and Bank of America have also been been hit by brand spoofing in the past few months.
SurfControl said the proliferation of open proxy servers is largely responsible for the problem. Lists of loosely managed or insecure proxy servers are freely available online, as are tools for locating open proxies, according to vice president of global product content Susan Larson.
Spammers use the servers to forward large volumes of e-mail messages to recipients. An open proxy server will not only forward the e-mail messages, but insert its own internet address in place of the original source information, effectively covering the spammer's tracks, Larson said.
Working from lists of harvested e-mail addresses, spammers target high-profile companies, counting on the fact that a certain percentage of recipients will have a relationship with those companies.
Because of the low cost of sending spam and the huge sums that can be reaped by stealing someone's identity, only a small number of recipients need to fall for the ruse for the spammers to turn a profit, she warned.
Consumers' growing comfort with online retail is also partially to blame for the increase in brand spoofing scams.
"So many more people are trusting the internet to do financial business. We're not as sceptical as we used to be about going out on the internet and giving passwords or credit card numbers or bank account numbers," she said.
The US Federal Trade Commission warned internet users to check for "sloppy copy" such as spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in any solicitation they may receive, and check with the company in question before providing any personal information on a website.
Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service