How Fake Sites Trick Search Engines to Hit the Top

Even search engines can get suckered by Internet scams.

Security researcher Jim Stickley displays logs on his laptop from Internet scams he created for a...

Security researcher Jim Stickley displays logs on his laptop from Internet scams he created for a study for a California financial institution at his home in La Mesa, Calif., Monday Dec. 7, 2009. Stickley's study showed some of the most trusted Internet search engines gave high ratings to fraudulent web sites. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

(AP)With a little sleight of hand, con artists can dupe them into giving top billing to fraudulent Web sites that prey on consumers, making unwitting accomplices of companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Online charlatans typically try to lure people into giving away their personal or financial information by posing as legitimate companies in "phishing" e-mails or through messages in forums such as Twitter and Facebook. But a new study by security researcher Jim Stickley shows how search engines also can turn into funnels for shady schemes.

Stickley created a Web site purporting to belong to the Credit Union of Southern California, a real business that agreed to be part of the experiment. He then used his knowledge of how search engines rank Web sites to achieve something that shocked him: His phony site got a No. 2 ranking on Yahoo Inc.'s search engine and landed in the top slot on Microsoft Corp.'s Bing, ahead of even the credit union's real site.

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