Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Internet fraud targeted by new team

Shredded documents
Shredding documents helps to prevent some identity fraud

A new team is being created to tackle online fraudsters operating in Britain amid a failure to secure any conviction under existing measures.

The "cyber enforcement team" will be set up as part of a £4.3m investment by the government over three years to tackle internet and e-mail cons.

So far nobody has been convicted by UK authorities tackling these crimes, but many websites have been closed.

An estimated £3.5bn is lost to all types of scams in the UK each year.

Recent research by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) found that 73% of adults had received a scam e-mail in the past year.

Shifting focus

The success rate for scam operators means that almost 10% of adults - more than four million people - in Britain said they had responded to a scam in their lives.

Stop, think and be sceptical
Do not rush to send off money to someone you do not know
Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer
Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam

Almost a half of those who did respond to a scam had lost more than £50, while 5% lost more than £5,000.

Over the next three years, the government wants to provide extra funding to see more specialist teams with specific equipment being funded in each English region, as well as Scotland and Wales.

The focus of tackling scams has shifted somewhat from doorstep crime - where people sign up to work or goods that are not delivered or are substandard - to online activity, as the popularity of internet shopping accelerates.

Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said: "The internet is rapidly transforming the way we shop. It presents massive opportunities for consumers, but unfortunately it also harbours fraudsters who can leave consumers upset and out of pocket."

Typically, this includes websites claiming to sell hard-to-find concert or football tickets which the operators simply do not have.

Other scams include playing on people's good nature, by appealing for donations to help victims of disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti, only for these appeals to be bogus.

Other e-mails or websites invite people to register for a free item - such as an iPod - only for the expectant recipient to have inadvertently downloaded "spyware" onto their computer.

This then allows fraudsters access to logon details for the victims' online banking services.

Convict and disrupt

It is extremely difficult to identify the criminals behind these types of crimes, according to trading standards officer John Peerless, who works on a Scambusters team.

Cash going up in flames
Millions of pounds are lost each year through scams

"That is why they use the internet. It is so easy to place their server in another country," he said.

He said there had been no convictions for this specific type of crime, and although many websites had been closed down, some reappeared under a different name within 24 hours.

"We are not having as much success as we would like," he said.

Many people are shopping across borders as they look for the best deal online, and so prevention - by raising awareness of scams - and disruption of websites will be part of the ambition for the new team.

"Ultimately, giving the public even greater confidence to shop online is what drives the activities of our enforcement team," said Heather Clayton of the Office of Fair Trading.

The funding will also be used to target legitimate companies which fail to offer customers the rights, such as refunds, to which they are entitled when shopping online.

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