Identity theft has taken a bad turn with the number of phishing scams increasing nearly 800-fold over the last 10 months.

Last September, there were 279 recorded phishing scams raveling the Internet, according to MessageLabs, Inc., a managed email security company based in New York. This past March, that number had risen to 215,643. That number has remained steady with 205,953 seen in April and 247,027 logged in May.

The highest mark was registered in January, 2004 when MessageLabs counted 337,050 phishing emails.

''In just 10 months, the number of phishing emails seen by MessageLabs has increased exponentially -- evidence that the number of individual scams has also risen dramatically,'' says Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs. ''For targeted organizations, the impact can be high, including lost productivity, customer confusion and complaints, damage to the brand and legal implications. For individual users, the financial losses can be excessive. If allowed to continue unchecked, online phishing scams threaten to undermine confidence in e-commerce as a whole.''

Phishing is one of the latest online financial scams plagueing online users. Emails claiming to be from legitimate businesses, such as banks and credit card companies, direct recipients to a replica of the actual company's Web site. Once they arrive at the site, victims are asked to 'update' their personal financial information, such as passwords, account numbers and Social Security numbers. The information is then used to steal the person's identity, along with their money, and defraud businesses.

These new statistics were released just as President Bush signed a new law creating stiffer penalties for identity theft. The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act establishes a new crime -- aggravated identity theft, which is the use of a stolen identity to commit other crimes.