small town 'online crime hotspot'

Shildon in County Durham has been labelled an internet crime hotspot with a higher percentage of fraudulent purchases than anywhere else in the UK.

Last year, 24% of all internet purchases there were made using stolen credit card details, according to security company The Third Man.

Durham Police say investigations are being hampered because people are told to report fraud to their banks first.

South-east London saw the most money lost to fraud in 2008 - about £16m.

In total, The Third Man, which represents 20% of UK companies operating online, estimates that online fraudsters stole half a billion pounds-worth of goods last year.

The Third Man has produced a map showing the prevalence of online fraud by postcode across the UK.

Shildon, in the DL area, is a former industrial town with a population of 10,000, and police believe that just one or two people may be responsible for the crime wave.

Det Inspector Geoff Smith, from Durham Police, said: "We had a lady not far from here [Shildon] that was duped into receiving a lot of stolen goods - vanloads of camcorders, digital cameras.

"She had to send them off to criminals in Nigeria, so I'm not surprised by today's figures."

Police cite televisions and laptop computers as the most commonly stolen items, but the BBC's Fiona Trott said beds were also a favourite target.

Experts believe many fraudsters come to the UK from abroad and a bed is the first thing they need when they arrive, our correspondent said.

Many other fraud hotspots are in postcodes with big cities, including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.

Andrew Goodwill, from The Third Man, said more must be done to tackle the issue.

"The problem's been getting worse year on year and there's a lack of policing, mainly because it's a difficult crime to investigate."

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