Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the swine flu buzz to sell counterfeit drugs and steal credit card details, Internet security experts have warned.
"The scare has spawned a spamming frenzy, like sharks smelling blood in the water," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Symantec's Mayur Kulkarni as stating in a blog post.
F-Secure, an Internet security company, has made a list of 146 swine flu-related internet sites that have been registered over the last few days by scammers looking to collect 'donations' and peddle malware, fake pills and bogus swine flu survival guides.
McAfee, one of the leading security software makers, said that domain registrations of websites that included "swine" in their names were up by thirtyfold.
One of the new sites, noswineflu.com, tries to con readers into buying a PDF called "Swine Flu Survival Guide" for 19.95 dollars.
McAfee and Symantec also revealed a surge in spam campaigns exploiting the flu threat, which instead of delivering useful information distribute viruses and offer bogus pills that purportedly eradicate the flu.
When victims go to purchase any products offered by the spammers, the details of their credit cards are stolen.
Sophos, another internet security company, has warned that victims may also be sent bogus drugs purporting to be generic versions of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, which could pose health risks.
Cybercriminals are also using celebrity angle, with email titles such as "Madonna caught swine flu!" and "Swine flu in Hollywood!".
The spam emails usually contain a link to a malicious website or what appears to be a PDF file, but is in fact a program that tries to steal user names and passwords.
Cisco IronPort estimated that swine flu-related messages already account for up to 4 per cent of the world's spam.
The US Government-run Computer Emergency Readiness Team, US-CERT, has cautioned not to open any malicious links or attachments.
"If users click on this link or open the attachment, they may be directed to a phishing website or exposed to malicious code," US-CERT said.
It added that all official information can be found on the website of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.