Banks and police have issued a new warning about sophisticated "phishing" e-mail scams that could put consumers' personal information and savings in jeopardy.

The e-mails, which claim to be from banks and credit card companies, direct people to phoney websites that closely resemble other legitimate sites such as the Royal Bank of Canada. The sites then prompt people for their passwords and account numbers.

"We're receiving multiple complaints on a daily basis regarding phishing right now with this new scam that's out," said John Schultz, an analyst with the RCMP's national anti-fraud call centre Phonebusters. "[The fraud artists] may try to empty out your bank account or empty out your Visa or they'll use your identification and they'll set up credit cards without you knowing it."

Bill Spenceley, a Lethbridge business owner, recently received an e-mail purporting to be sent from the credit card company Visa.

"What I couldn't believe was just how crafty it was and how it resembled the actual legitimate site," he said. "What bothered me the most is that I thought, this is going to catch some people."

Maura Drew-Lytle, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association, said that as soon as the banks learn of the phishing e-mails they have the sites shut down. She encouraged consumers to scour their e-mails with a critical eye.

"Your bank will never send you an e-mail asking you to provide any sort of personal information," Drew-Lytle said.

RCMP say they're having a difficult time curbing the scam since many of the operations are based in countries overseas with little police enforcement, such as Nigeria.

According to Phonebusters, there were 1,137 victims of identity theft in 2005 with losses totaling approximately$8.6 million.