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updated 11/9/2011 5:21:25 PM ET 2011-11-09T22:21:25

Clever online criminals are preying on people's fears of computer viruses by packaging their malicious scams in what appears to be legitimate anti-virus software from a top vendor.

The latest instance of this  phishing ploy comes from crooks trying to scam users under the guise that they're selling software from the security firm Kaspersky Lab. The unsolicited emails look official, and include a link that directs recipients to a website selling "Best Antivirus Online."

To buy the product, users are told to first enter their credit card details and email address so they can "receive further instructions," Maria Namestnikova from Kaspersky Lab wrote on the company's Securelist  blog. (The anti-virus ad, she wrote, resembled the signature design of Symantec's anti-virus software — perhaps an attempt to trip up users by adding some legitimate, if mismatched, visual support to the scam.)

To investigate the phising scam, Namestnikova followed the directions, but said she received no further instructions. So while victims don't end up downloading any potentially harmful software, they've handed over their credit card info to a total stranger.

Phishing scams like this are very common, but users can avoid this one by not entering credit card details on suspicious-looking websites, and by ignoring unsolicited emails trying to convince them to purchase security software. "No reputable company would send spam messages," Namestnikova said.

More sophisticated scams shilling fake anti-virus software, such as MacDefender, have made headlines recently by actually taking over computers and then holding them hostage, or redirecting Web browsers to porn sites until their owners pay.

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