When rumors swirled in late September that regulators had brokered a deal for Citigroup (C) to buy Wachovia (WFC), cybercriminals capitalized on the chaos. An estimated 5,000 Wachovia customers received a fraudulent e-mail instructing them to update their accounts in anticipation of the merger. Many gave the hackers Social Security numbers and other sensitive financial information. Wachovia posted an alert within 24 hours, and Wells Fargo (WFC) emerged as the buyer a few days later. But the damage had been done. “It’s us against these criminals,” says Matt Wadley, a spokesman for Wachovia, which is helping those duped by the fraud.
The toxic combination of a weak economy and a widespread banking crisis is offering an opening for criminals who operate online to steal valuable financial information. Cybercrime was up 53% in 2008, according to a report by security consultant McAfee (MFE). Says Nikos Passas, a professor at Northeastern University who specializes in organized crime: “With rising unemployment and a deepening recession, you have a growing number of desperate people.”
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