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Phishing websites reached an all-time high earlier this year, a sign that making fake websites that look like real ones is still working well for cyber thieves.

There were 56,859 phishing sites detected in February, beating the previous record high in August 2009 by nearly 1 percent, according to the latest report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). APWG consists of banks, security vendors and others with a stake in tracking cyber crime trends.

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Phishing sites are websites that look nearly identical to the legitimate ones and often mimic known brands. Leveraging the trust users put in the legitimate companies, cyber criminals succeed in tricking victims into divulging logins, passwords and other sensitive information.

The increase in the number of phishing websites was in part due to new technology APWG began using earlier this year to detect fraudulent sites, group said.

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More than 38 percent of the fake websites related to financial services, according to the APWG’s report. The second most spoofed market vertical was payment services, followed by retail and other service sites. The sites spoofed 392 brands, also a record.

“All manner of commerce is transacted online today and in that are opportunities for new and provocative scams, leveraging some part of the customer-enterprise relationship that is unique to the domain,” said Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the APWG. “People are tougher to fool with phishing, but they still can be in the hands of a creative scam artisan.”

The U.S. hosted the most fake sites. About half of the phishing sites for the first quarter of 2012 used some form of a brand in their URL, which often tricks people.

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