CONSUMER awareness of phishing attacks has doubled between 2007 and 2009 but the number of consumers falling victim to these attacks increased six times during the same period, according to a global online survey released recently.

RSA, the security division of leading information infrastructure technology developer EMC Corp., announced the results of its 2010 Global Online Consumer Security Survey.

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The survey gathered responses of 4,539 consumers aged 18 to 65 from 22 countries across North America, South America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Specifically, the survey showed that consumer awareness of phishing increased from 38 percent in 2007 to 76 percent in 2009.

Phishing is a form of Internet fraud that aims to steal valuable information such as credit cards, usernames, and passwords.

The rate of consumers falling victim of a phishing scam, though, recorded from only five percent (one in 20 consumers) in 2007 to 29 percent (three in 10 consumers) in 2009.

The increase is attributed to “more advanced communication tactics and greater sophistication such as improved writing and web design skills of fraudsters.”

“Phishing attacks have also evolved in an attempt to exploit users in different ways and through a broader variety of methods including offshoots known as vishing, smishing, and spear phishing,” the survey results said.

RSA warned that online criminals are now penetrating into the social networking websites because of their global reach and millions of active users.

The survey showed that four out of five people using social networking websites are concerned with the safety of their personal information online.

“Fraudsters continue to fine-tune their array of tactics that result in millions of computers becoming infected with Trojans and other malware (designed to infiltrate a computer system),” said RSA senior vice president Christopher Young in a statement.

He pointed out that these online criminals are adept in social engineering with phishing attacks launched within moments of breaking news about popular celebrities, professional athletes, or serious global events.

As a result, Internet users are lured to legitimate sites infected with malware or to fake sites designed to look like legitimate news sources, he said.

Meanwhile, the survey reported that about 86 percent of the consumers using online banking are also concerned with the stealing of their personal information.

Nine in 10 consumers are willing to use a stronger form of security if offered.

Young advised that consumer education and awareness is one of the first lines of defense in the battle against online crime.

RSA is a provider of security solutions for business acceleration, offering industry-leading solutions in identity assurance & access control, data loss prevention, encryption & key management, compliance and security information management and fraud protection.