Bargain hunters targeted by brand scammers

Travel brands are the latest high-profile targets of "brandjackers" and online scam artists, reports market analyst MarkMonitor.

Travel brands are the latest high-profile targets of "brandjackers" and online scam artists, reports market analyst MarkMonitor.

In its Spring report, MarkMonitor found brandjackers using fraudulent airline voucher scams, search-engine optimisation and blended abuse techniques to target those hunting for travel bargains and divert traffic from legitimate e-commerce channels.

Discounts of 80% were used to lure unwary shoppers into more than 150 online auctions for fraudulent travel vouchers for leading airlines, the firm said.

"With the recent airline industry bankruptcies, we expect to see an increased incidence of online fraud related to refunds, credits and vouchers," said Irfan Salim, MarkMonitor's CEO.

Salim said scammers were using search-engine optimisation tactics to divert online shoppers searching for legitimate travel brands to illicit websites with questionable content, including adult material.

Blended abuses that target travel brands combine multiple techniques such as spam, pay-per-click fraud and malware to put shoppers' computers at risk from viruses and spyware, he said.

Salim warned that some scammers were using these techniques to sell questionable aircraft components on business-to-business exchanges and auction websites. Components included valves, springs, gears, flanges, gauges, radar parts and "unspecified parts".

"Suppliers in China, the US and other countries are selling questionable aircraft components in bulk online," he said. "58% of questionable listings were with Alibaba and 41% of questionable listings originated from China, followed by the US at 38%."

MarkMonitor found that cybersquatting, the registration of web addresses similar to legitimate brands, grew by 40% in Q1 2008, and pay-per-click fraud declined by 42%. Phishers were concentrating on a few targeted brands just 14 organisations accounted for 90% of all phishing URLs, it found. Eight were based in the US, and six in the UK. Eleven were financial institutions, it said.

Although brand abusers can be located anywhere, the top countries for websites that host brand abusers are consistent. The US is home to two-thirds, Germany hosts 7%, the UK at 6% and Canada at 4%, it said.

The MarkMonitor Index is based on daily searches of some 134 million public records for brand abuse in domain data as well as US and international patent and trademark Office data.

The report's analysis of online travel risks is based on eight leading brands including the largest U.S. and global airline carriers, two of the most popular international travel websites, two leading international hotel chains and two global leaders in aircraft manufacturing.

The phishing data is based on feeds from leading international ISPs, e-mail providers and other alliance partners. The company processes as many as 16 million unique suspected phishing e-mails daily.

Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention