Symantec has joined the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), an association of ISPs, technology vendors and law enforcement officials dedicated to identifying and thwarting phishing attacks.

Phishing scams use spam e-mail to direct Net users to websites controlled by thieves, but designed to look like legitimate e-commerce sites. Users are asked to provide sensitive information such as a password, bank account or credit card number, often under the guise of updating account information.

Symantec joined the APWG as a "premium" member, entitling the company to a seat on the group's steering committee and allowing its representatives to participate in APWG sub-groups, meetings and technology trials. Symantec also receives access to the APWG's repository of information on phishing scams, according to the APWG website.

In a statement, Symantec cited a recent consumer survey it conducted that found that 42.5 percent of consumers are very concerned about online fraud. A majority of those surveyed reported changing the way they use the Internet because of their concerns about fraud, with 32 percent saying that they don’t use the Internet for online banking, Symantec said.

Symantec is the first major anti-virus company to sign up with the group, said Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the APWG. Its addition underscores the growing connections between identity theft scams and malicious code such as viruses, worms and Trojan horse programs, he said.

Symantec will bring scientists and engineers with expertise in malicious code to the group, which is studying the use of so-called "malware" in phishing attacks, he said. The APWG has been talking with Symantec about joining for months, and other large anti-virus companies may soon join the group, as well, Cassidy said.