Banks suffered losses of £33.5 million last year as ‘phishing’ fraud attacks surged by 44 per cent, figures from UK payments agency APACS have shown.

Although overall card fraud losses fell slightly in 2006, online banking frauds perpetrated by criminals posing as banks to obtain sensitive account data from customers through email contact rose exponentially.

The spam emails, which purport to be from a customer’s bank, aim to trick their recipients into clicking-through the links to false versions of bank websites and disclosing security information there.

Apacs recorded 14,156 bogus websites which imitated the style and format of bank websites in 2006, a vast increase on the 1,713 fake bank sites reported in 2005.

Overall losses from online banking fraud have almost tripled since 2004, when only £12.2 million was illegally procured over the web.

The colossal sums now taken are placing an increasing financial strain on banks, which are, for the most part, committed to refunding customers who are victims of fraud.

Some, such as the Bank of Ireland, have recently suggested they will no longer accept liability for all customers affected by online fraud, consumer body Which? has reported.

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