Safe to go banking online despite big phish attacks

20 Sep 2004

Irish internet users are being reassured that online banking services remains safe following a spate of phishing attacks in recent days. Emails purporting to come from several banks, including AIB, have been sent to people with the aim of having them declare their account information – however, these are actually part of a criminal scam.

The Irish Payment Services Organisation (IPSO), has emphasised that despite the latest fraud attempt, genuine banking websites are not affected and are safe to use. “Some people have the impression that this affects the actual bank site, but it’s perfectly fine as long as users key in the address to their browser and don’t try clicking on any links in emails that they may have received,” said Una Dillon, manager with IPSO card services.

Phishing scams operate as follows: criminal gangs send large volumes of emails to users asking them to change their personal details, which could involve disclosing sensitive information such as access codes or ATM PIN numbers. Web links contained in the message appear to bring the user to the bank’s site but this is an elaborate fake, complete with logos designed to make it appear genuine.

According to Una Dillon, phishing messages are often sent indiscriminately, so that people may receive emails from AIB for example, even if they are not customers of that bank. Poorly worded sentences or phrases are another telltale sign that an email may be fraudulent. Many banks actually have a policy of never communicating with customers by email for security reasons.

This is the second time that AIB has been specifically targeted, having been a victim of a similar scam in July. Earlier this year the credit card provider MBNA, which operates in Ireland, also fell victim to this kind of fraud. However the problem is not exclusive to Ireland, said Dillon. “The gangs behind this aren’t picking and choosing, they’re going around the world,” she told “The majority of this happens in the States and the UK is also being hit.”

IPSO, which operates a card fraud forum for member banks in Ireland, said that EU-wide intelligence points to Eastern European gangs as being behind many phishing scams. The problem is meanwhile growing at an alarming rate, said Dillon. There has been a 1,200pc increase in the rate of these messages in the past six months and last year some US$3.8bn was lost to phishing frauds in the United States alone.

Irish users who want to know more about the problem can see samples of typical phishing emails can visit IPSO’s website at

By Gordon Smith