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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June 2005, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
UK in grip of hi-tech crime wave
By Marianne Lueck
BBC Money Programme

Man examining a laptop computer
The opportunity for crime increases as we do more and more online
Britain is being hit by a hi-tech crime wave.

More and more of us are going online and so is international organised crime.

As you buy, sell and bank on the web, criminals are thinking of ingenious ways to con you out of cash.

Banking card fraud now costs the UK 500m.

The banks are hoping that the roll out of chip and pin cards will stem this growth but admit the criminals will look elsewhere.

Sandra Quinn from APACS, the association for payment clearing services, told the Money programme: "If chip and pin makes a big dent in their earnings, they're going to go somewhere else. There's no doubt about it."

'Alarming'

Glasgow councillor Bill Timoney had never lost his debit card but somehow a criminal managed to spend 2000 without him realising.

"It's certainly alarming and if it could happen to me and I'm a fairly careful individual, it could happen to anyone."

Just how he was robbed remains a mystery to him because the crime was committed on the internet. He was a victim of card not present fraud.

Criminals are taking advantage of online shopping outlets using stolen cards and some are even buying and selling stolen card numbers online.

Britain has seen an explosion of online commerce.

In 2004, we spent 14.5bn online and that's tempting for the criminals.

Phishing

One tactic used to try and steal your financial information is called "phishing".

Online banking login screen, BBC
Almost all online banks have been hit by phishing attacks

This is when the criminals send you an e-mail pretending to be from your bank.

It aims to trick you into parting with your passwords and pin numbers.

All the customers of the major High Street banks have been targeted and thousands of us have been deceived.

But criminals are now using more sophisticated methods to steal your cash and control your PC.

Rogue e-mails are being sent that infect your computer with a virus.

This can then enable a criminal to watch every keystroke you make and steal your private information.

8,000 loss

John Worthington runs a small business manufacturing rape alarms, he believes he may have been a victim, he had just over 8,000 taken from his internet bank account even though he kept his security details safe.

Part of the problem lies in how well we've protected our computers against attacks from hackers.

To help avoid attacks, you need a blocking device called a firewall and anti-virus software.

But research by APACS shows that 41% of us have no active firewall and 25% don't have up to date anti-virus protection.

Which means millions of Britons are easy prey for the hackers.

Screen grab of website warning people about phising scams
Consumers should protect themselves against cyber crime

Neil Barrett, a leading computer security expert, told the Money Programme: "I don't have an online bank account and no, I'm not unique.

"I think if you talk to most information security experts, they don't have, don't want and wouldn't use an internet bank account because of security concerns."

Domestic dangers

It's not just card and banking fraud. If your home PC is infected, your computer can then become part of what is called a bot net - a robot network of thousands upon thousands of infected computers.

One British business, Bluesq.com, was targeted by a Russian gang.

Their site was disrupted by the criminals and a ransom request made of $30,000 (16,438) to stop the attacks.

Peter Pedersen, chief technology officer, describes the impact of an attack to the Money Programme.

"It's a huge pressure, because the business is under attack. The turnover is not coming in and ultimately this could have a big impact on business."

The company refused to pay the ransom and called in the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit. They managed to track the criminals to Russia and made crucial arrests.

The attacks on BlueSq have stopped but the National Hi- Tech Crime Unit estimate that the cost to British business is 2.4bn and organised gangs are behind many of the attacks.

Money Programme: Britain's Hi-tech Crime Wave - broadcast Friday 17 June at 1900 on BBC Two.


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