Page last updated at 05:01 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 06:01 UK

The web trade in credit card details

By Anna Adams
BBC News

Imagine a website where criminals buy and sell other people's credit card numbers.

A few clicks in Google and that site is a reality. Anyone can join. Anyone can attempt to use the card numbers posted there.

And the authorities appear powerless to act.

A BBC investigation has uncovered growing levels of credit card crime committed on the internet.

Typically hackers get into the databases of online retailers, stealing the card numbers held on their servers.

The card details are then offered for sale to the highest bidder - either on web forums or via Internet Relay Chat.

Adele Darling's shock discovery

Adele Darling was one victim of this crime.

Just before Christmas, she bought an electric keyboard for her son.

The first she knew that something was wrong was when strange transactions began appearing on her statement.

The shop where she had bought the keyboard had been hacked, and her details had been sold to fraudsters.

BBC News found Mrs Darling's details on a web forum run by hackers.

She was horrified to find her name, address, phone number, email address and credit card number up for sale.

Mrs Darling's card has now been stopped by her bank.

But she is still worried that her identity was so blatantly available to criminals.

The website concerned is hosted in Pakistan, its members are anonymous and no-one seems able to close it down.

Out of control

Typically the card numbers being offered for sale will be used by fraudsters to purchase small, high value electrical goods, things like MP3 players, games consoles and mobile phones, anything which can be easily sold on online or at a car boot sale.

The BBC found fraudsters were ordering thousands of pounds worth of goods using hacked credit cards.

Fraud expert Andrew Goodwill

Andrew Goodwill is a fraud expert with software company The 3rd Man.

He says this kind of crime is out of control.

Many experts say the UK falls well behind the US and Europe in policing the internet.

Last year, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said that the internet had become a "playground for criminals".

IMRG, the body which represents online retailers agrees, and is calling for action.

According to the retailers, most police forces simply are not interested in dealing with this kind of crime.

The one exception is the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU), a small police team set up and funded by the banking industry.

Officers from the DCPCU admit that internet fraud is on the rise but say they are doing their best to tackle it.

But critics say not enough is being done and are calling on the government to fund a dedicated e-crime unit.

Meanwhile, online retailers are being told they need to be aware of the threat from hackers. And consumers are being advised to take steps to protect themselves such as always checking their bank and credit card statements and only shopping on secure sites.

Internet fraud 'underestimated'
23 Apr 08 |  Business
Plastic card fraud goes back up
12 Mar 08 |  Business
Card fraud 'is not investigated'
21 Jun 07 |  Business

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