Cyber criminals stole more than $600 million from Kiwis in the past year.
And in the past few weeks, Taranaki people lost tens of thousands of dollars to internet fraudsters. That is just the ones we know about. They are not the first and certainly will not be the last.
The total cost of cyber crime worldwide is calculated at $388 billion. That compares with the world's illegal drug trade, worth $288b.
The figures come from Norton's CyberCrime 2011 report, issued this week, which details the cost and extent of cyber crime in New Zealand and around the world.
Experts say cyber crime is a billion- dollar growth industry. They say there is no way of stopping it, but believe internet users can take steps to reduce their vulnerability.
New Plymouth people Robert Mitchell, Sally Ballott and ultra-marathon runner Lisa Tamati know only too well the cost of that vulnerability.
Mr Mitchell, the deputy editor of the Taranaki Daily News, had $1200 stolen from his TSB Bank account in June, while Mrs Ballott lost $9000 and Ms Tamati $10,000 in July.
The trio were victims of a phishing scam, an attempt by hackers to get information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy site.
The scams originate from various countries, including Albania, Nigeria, and Romania, but the country that hosts the most phishing attacks is the United States. In June, six out of every 10 phishing attacks originated in the US.
Online fraud can be reported at theorb.org.nz, a site developed by NetSafe to offer all New Zealanders a simple and secure way to report their concerns about online incidents.
NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker says online fraud is common.
"The majority of New Zealanders online will come across some form of online scam or fraud; it is not to say that the majority will fall for it," he said.
"Every day there is something in the front of the majority of users which could lead them down the path of falling for a scam or fraud."
He says internet users often drop their guard while online.
"For most of us the online space is a fairly positive and social space. We are there and we are communicating with friends and we are sharing pretty openly, but it is important to consider some of the people in that space are not our friends and are looking for opportunities to steal from us."
The PC doctor scam, in which people are telephoned to say there is something wrong with their computer, is the most common scam, and the romance scam, in which a person poses as a love interest and then asks for money, is the most expensive.
There is no way to stop them. "The best defence is always education and users being aware of what is going on."
He says cyber criminals take advantage of society's increased use of technology.
"It is true criminals are exploiting the same efficiency that has been created to improve our lives.
"It's a benefit to us in our businesses and in our daily lives, but it is also something that can be exploited by criminals. With any progress there will be challenges."
He says it is hard to gauge what impact cyber crime is having on people's confidence in technology.
"Generally there is a reluctance by some people to use the technology because of the concerns about that. We don't want to see people put off using this technology because of this kind of thing."
Mr Cocker says anyone using the internet should have all security processes in place.
"That includes security software and keeping that up to date, and using sensible and strong passwords. You need to do all of these things; you can't do some and think you will be safe."
Sergeant Terry Johnson says cyber crime is one of the fastest growing illegal activities in the world and anyone can fall victim. "Even the most careful people can become the victim of what is happening on the internet."
He says tracking and prosecuting cyber criminals can be frustrating because of its global spread.
"We need to have a fairly high standard of evidence before we can ask Interpol for assistance."
And authorities in some Third World countries are reluctant to chase offenders.
"It is a mass industry, which is run by criminals and organised crime gangs throughout the world," Mr Johnson said. "It is sophisticated and it's organised."
He says 50 to 60 scammers can be operating out of one building in countries such as Nigeria. "They work on the principle that they might send out 50,000 to 60,000 emails and only get five or six live ones."
Banks contacted by the Taranaki Daily News said they advised customers never to click on a link in an email which asked them to follow another link to online banking. They also are urged not to open attachments about which they are unsure.
Despite such concerns, TSB Bank technical services manager Marie Collins says New Zealand's banking system is secure. "There has been no breach, that we are aware of, of New Zealand's banking system," she said.
The weakest link was the internet- user. "The only way that someone can get into your internet banking site is by stealing your creditation - your user code and password."
Mrs Collins says banks are constantly investing in technology to stay a step ahead of scammers.
"At TSB we are actively looking at what's next, where are we going and how we can help and protect our customers. We are considering all sorts of options going forward."
She says it is disheartening when a customer is caught out. "I don't want people to be scared of the internet because it's an amazing tool."
Kiwibank communications manager Bruce Thompson says email phishing scams target hundreds of thousands of people. "They hit all of the banks, all of the time. It just never stops."
"In most cases the people won't even be customers of the bank that they [the emails] relate to."
Banks take immediate action to close down phishing sites to protect customers, but it does not stop the scammers.
"The sites can start up again within hours or days, in a new location - sometimes in a different country."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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