AOL has filed three civil lawsuits against major phishing gangs, seeking $18m (about £10m) from the groups, the company said yesterday.

AOL, using a Virginia antiphishing law adopted in July 2005, filed the lawsuits against several phishing groups in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria. The lawsuits also cite federal law focusing on trademark and antispam rules.

The company accuses several phishing organisations of sending AOL and CompuServe members email messages attempting to trick and lure them to fake websites intended to look like the sites of legitimate companies. The phishing scams try to fool web users into giving up their personal information, such as AOL screen names, passwords and credit card information.

The scams targeted customers' personal information linked to several companies, including AOL, the company said.

AOL has collected tens of thousands of examples of email messages transmitted by what the company called phishing gangs, it said. The company did not identify the gangs or give their locations. A telephone message seeking further information from an AOL representative was not immediately returned.

Phishing scams are a serious problem, AOL said. The US Internal Revenue Service is warning of widespread phishing email scans as tax filing deadlines near. The Anti-Phishing Working Group found nearly 50,000 phishing websites created last year; more than 7,000 in December alone, the company noted.