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Unsafe Internet Day

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The celebration of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday was marked by warnings that cybercriminals are staying ahead of defenders in their attempts to defraud or otherwise abuse internet users.

Safer Internet Day is part of wider efforts to promote the safe and responsible use of the internet and mobile technologies, especially among youngsters. Reports of incidents of online child abuse and financial fraud are both on the increase.

Research from the UK's Office of Fair Trading and Get Safe Online, published on Monday, shows online scams are on the rise. One in four (23 per cent) of UK internet users surveyed reckon either they or their close friends and family1, had been a victim of phishing scams during the last 12 months, compared to just eight per cent the year before. Similarly, more than one in six (16 per cent) had fallen victim to other types of online scam.

The terms of the survey are a bit imprecise, but there's not much doubt that phishing scams, advanced fee frauds, auctions rip-off, and other forms of fraud are a real enough threat. The prevalence of such scams is increasing as cybercrime moves on from a cottage industry to a matter money-spinner.

In its latest available report, UK banking association APACs warned that online banking fraud losses were £21.4m in the six months to June 2008, a 185 per cent rise on the same period of 2007. APACS reckons the increase is "largely due to criminals targeting online banking customers through phishing and spyware scams".

The banking association reckons more than 20,000 fraudulent phishing websites were set up in the first half of 2008, an increase of 180 per cent from the same period in 2007. A risk outlook report by regulators the Financial Service Authority lamented that consumer awareness of fraudulent techniques is mediocre - at best.

"The era of script kids, playing around with viruses and worms for fun has come to an end," said David Emm, senior technology consultant at Kaspersky Lab UK "Nowadays, a whole industry of highly organised cyber gangsters has taken their place. "It is very worrying statistic that during 2008 there were 500 new cases of online child abuse reported every month, an increase of 67 per cent on 2007. Meanwhile, last year one in ten were said to be affected by online fraud, with victims losing an average of £875 each."

1Why OFT brought in friends and family into this question isn't clear and leads to imprecision in doubts. Is the reason more people know someone who's being hit by identity theft because fraud is on the rise or because people have more friends? We've a horrible suspicion that this figure might find its way into arguments in support of ID cards as a means of preventing fraud in upcoming months. ®

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