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Internet theft

October 9, 2009

Internet crime is not the work of lonely, unscrupulous computer nerds, but organized international rings, the German police warned following a new rise in online fraud.

Finger points to email inbox
More email accounts are being hackedImage: picture alliance / dpa

Around half of German internet users are victims of online crime, a new study commissioned by IT-business association Bitkom revealed on Friday. The Forsa study found an 11-percent rise in internet crime since last year, with a total of 38,000 recorded cases.

Viruses and other malware continue to be the preferred methods of online criminals, with 38 percent of internet users affected. But the number of fraud cases has also risen sharply. The so-called 'phishing' of bank account details, one of the most popular forms of internet fraud, is expected to rise by around 50 percent by the end of 2009, according to the prognosis of Dieter Kempf, member of the executive committee at Bitkom.

PayPal logo
Police consider internet payment systems at riskImage: AP

Worrying statistics

Some five percent of internet users have had their login details for internet shops and social networking sites stolen, the study found, while three percent have lost money through malware or data theft.

The total financial damage caused by internet crime is also expected to rise drastically this year. Bitkom expects the amount of money stolen online in 2009 to reach 11 million euros ($16.2 million), an increase of 56 percent. The average loot per crime is 4,000 euros ($5,900), according to German federal police figures.

Around 24 million Germans, 38 percent of the population aged between 16 and 74, now do their banking on the internet. But data theft is not restricted to online banking. Login details for social networking sites, email accounts, stock and share accounts, internet shops, and company networks are regularly stolen and sold illegally on special internet forums.

Federal police chief Joerg Ziercke at a computer
Federal police chief Joerg Ziercke warned users to keep security software updatedImage: AP

Better prevention and better prosecution

The police also consider PayPal, ClickandBuy and Ebay accounts at risk, and urged internet shoppers not to use simple passwords, like a partner's name, and to continually update their security software.

Both Dieter Kempf and federal police chief Joerg Ziercke called for closer cooperation between business and police to develop better security software and services.

Ziercke told reporters that internet criminals now network internationally, and that many leave the country before they can be prosecuted. Ziercke also announced his intention to lobby the government for better international cooperation in combating internet crime once current coalition negotiations have concluded.

Editor: Andreas Illmer