Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Sunday, 6 September 2009 08:14 UK

Shildon: An unlikely crime capital

By Fiona Trott
BBC News

Residents in Shildon say if you're looking for internet crime, you've come to the wrong place.

Instead, they say that if anything's put their town on the map, it's the local railway museum.

But national online screening company The Third Man has published a map of its own.

Sans Pareil
Shildon residents know it for its railway museum not its online fraud

It shows where fraudsters are supposed to be operating in the UK and Shildon's postcode, DL4, is glowing red.

Elsewhere, Woolwich in south east London was the worst town in terms of money, with £2.6 million of goods bought fraudulently last year.

Andrew Goodwill, from The Third Man, explained why these hotspots exist: "The problem is there's not a common approach to tackling this kind of crime.

"What we need in this country is for all the banks and private commercial companies to talk to the police. Then we might see some action."

Fake address

So what do the fraudsters buy? It appears to be anything from knitting patterns to diamond rings, perfume to clothes. Anything that can be sold on for cash.

But there are also things they need for themselves, like flights and computers to keep their underworld operations going, and most bizarrely perhaps, one of the first things they buy is a bed.

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Experts say that is because many of these criminals arrive from abroad and are starting from scratch.

Debbie Jones, from Bedworld in Castleford, West Yorkshire, told the BBC what they go for: "Leather frames, expensive mattresses.

"Also anything we can deliver the next day, because of course they'll be out of there within a few hours.

"Once, somebody ordered goods online for about £800. We looked into it and realised it was a fake address. The fraudsters got away with the goods and also the money."

Bedworld was losing so much through online fraud that it was forced to take on two members of staff to check every single transaction.

Slow process

Back in County Durham, the head of the local police fraud squad, Det Insp Geoff Smith, said the hotspot map was useful.

"It gives us a picture to see what's happening, so that we can detect it," he said.

"The Home Office changed the reporting procedures, so now people have to report credit card fraud to the banks first, so it takes a long time for the information to get through to us.

"Internet fraud is the second [most] major crime in the country after drug trafficking and more needs to be done."

Det Insp Smith also believes some people in Shildon may be being used only for their address - duped by criminals from abroad into accepting deliveries of stolen goods, perhaps in an online chat room.

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