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Consumer fear of online identity theft could be costing Irish businesses up to €250m a year, according to a survey released on Friday.

Research group Behaviour and Attitudes also reported that more than 15,000 Irish internet users may have had their identities stolen through sophisticated phishing scams, which entice surfers to supply personal information, such as bank account details, to fraudulent websites mimicking legitimate companies.

"This is a wake up call for Irish consumers and businesses," Computer Associates (CA) security expert Sean O'Connell told ENN. "Well-organised criminal gangs are taking advantage of regular email releases from companies such as Amazon, eBay and Aer Lingus and are harvesting personal log-on details such as your date of birth and address," O'Connell said.

He believes increasing demand and take-up of broadband in Ireland has been noted by international cyber criminals who may now focus their attention on gathering data on Irish citizens.

The gangs are collecting personal information to illegally access bank accounts - one Irish woman recently had €25,000 pinched from her account, for example.

The fact that there has been plenty of media coverage of high-tech trickery such as phishing, credit card skimming and cash machine scams in Ireland means people are not only well informed of potential cons, but they may now be loathe to transact with banks and retailers online.

The B&A survey, which was commissioned by Computer Associates, reports that of the 1.4m Irish internet users, as many as 350,000 do not engage in any online transactions.

One third of people surveyed who never transact online said they made this choice based on mistrust of all online business. Only 17 per cent of Irish consumers believe online organisations are currently doing enough to protect their private data, and one in 10 online transactions are not completed because of security concerns.

Irish consumers trust medical institutions and banks most to protect their personal details, followed by the government and credit card companies.

"Ultimately, Irish businesses need to be seen to take greater levels of care of consumer personal details such as passwords and credit card details. People are aware that unscrupulous online criminals are seeking to compromise their information. Companies need to increase the layers of security and precautions and invest in better technology, better processes and ongoing staff training," said O'Connell.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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