MasterCard has launched a new scheme to tackle online credit card fraud and, in particular, "phishing" - where credit card details are tricked out of people.

The credit card monster said it is working with the "leading digital fraud detection company" NameProtect and both will take a "more aggressive approach" to cyberscams. MasterCard will have access to data from NameProtect's technology, which can search and filter large volumes of Internet content to find online scams. The companies will also work with law enforcement to shut down Internet sites and tools used by identity thieves.

Phishing scams happen when spam e-mail is used to direct Internet users to websites controlled by the thieves, but designed to look like legitimate e-commerce sites. Users are asked to provide sensitive information such as a user name and password, social security number, bank account or credit card number, often under the guise of updating account information.

Phishing scams have surged in recent months. The number of scams reported increased by almost 200 percent, to 1,100 in April, a 178 percent increase from March, according to figures from the Anti-Phishing Working Group. Customers of online retailers such as eBay and CitiBank are frequently the attacks' targets.

As part of the partnership, NameProtect will use its Internet detection technology and systems to monitor a variety of online information sources to identify new fraud campaigns. The company's technology can filter information from Internet domains, Web pages, as well as online discussions and spam e-mail to identify online trading rings, phishing attacks and other forms of online fraud.

It will report information on new threats to MasterCard, which will issue alerts to its 25,000 member network of financial institutions using a service called MC Alerts. Those organizations can then alert their customers, the companies said. MasterCard and NameProtect will also pass any information on fraud to authorities like the US Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Postal Service and Interpol.

The announcement from MasterCard and NameProtect comes amid growing concern among businesses that phishing scams threaten to undermine public confidence in online commerce. Last week, a cross-industry consortium of companies including Best Buy, AT&T, Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments, IBM and Siebel said they were forming yet another group to battle phishing attacks.

The Trusted Electronic Communications Forum has representatives from leading retail, telecommunications, financial services and technology companies. The new group will work with various federal governments as well as standards organisations and companies to fix problems such as e-mail and website spoofing, which contribute to the fast-growing online identity theft problem.