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At least 1,000 phony websites representing real institutions and companies have popped up since February, a Japanese security expert said Saturday.

The sites include those for government agencies, news outlets and electronics makers as well as major foreign companies.

They were apparently created between February and May, said Kenzo Masamoto, director of the Security Research Center at Macnica Networks Corp., an information security company in Yokohama.

The bogus sites have domains ending with .ga, .gq, .cf, .tk or.ml that were acquired for free through a company based in the Netherlands. The domains are for countries such as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and the sites are hosted on servers of a U.S. company, Masamoto said.

The fake sites have content that is the same as the genuine sites and also reflect updates.

Although the phony sites are believed to have been created intentionally, their purpose is unclear. No reports of damage, such as compromised personal information or virus attacks, have been linked to the suspicious sites.

Japanese government agencies and others have asked the operator of the server to delete the fakes since it is possible to change their content and distribute computer viruses using them.

“The creator apparently aimed to make platforms for scam sites to defraud money and personal information,” Masamoto said, adding that they may have been created to sell to crime groups.

“It’s dangerous to access them,” Masamoto said.

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