Internet fraud booming, says Chamber of Commerce

Are bogus Web sites becoming latest dot-com trend?

Internet fraud is rising steeply, according to the International Chamber of Commerce's Commercial Crime Services (CCS) division, which reports that nearly two thirds of all cases it dealt with in 2000 involved online fraud.

The figures released by CCS at the end of last year, show that 2,776 of the 4,139 cases referred by its business partners involved bogus Web sites or fraudulent online services, more than double the previous year.

According to CCS, it is all too easy to create the illusion of respectability on the Internet. "Cybercrime is traditional crime perpetrated through a new and powerful medium," says Pottengal Mukundan, director of CCS. "It is surprising how experienced businessmen discard their normal prudence when confronted with a profitable proposal offered over a well-presented Web site."

Mukundan adds that the fraud figures do not necessarily reflect a new high-tech criminal fraternity, but instead show the growing Internet savvy of traditional conmen. "The fraudsters have not changed," he says.

A typical online con trick, according to CCS, is a financial or retail firm offering too-good-to-be-true" deals through their Web site. Jon Merrett, assistant director of the CCS Commercial Crime Bureau (CCB) predicts that this sort of fraud will grow over the coming year.

"Even in cyberspace, if it seems too good, then it probably is," he says. Merrett says that Internet service providers (ISPs) are best placed to monitor for fraudulent Web services and believes they have responsibility to make sure the sites they are hosting are not bogus.

Although the government has given its backing to TrustUK, a scheme launched by the Consumer Association to guarantee the authenticity of commercial Internet sites, this has failed to catch on and some see the need for greater industry-wide monitoring.

"What we haven't yet got is a regulatory body treating this in the same way as traditional [fraud]," says Andy Mullholland, chief technology officer with consultancy firm Cap Gemini Ernst and Young.

Mullholland also, however, believes that some of the increase in Internet fraud may be due to more commerce being conducted online or more people reporting fraudulent activity.

A London company was recently investigated following claims that it had defrauded customers out of thousands of pounds by offering PlayStation2 consoles that it could not supply through its Web site.

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