By Lucas van Grinsven, European Technology Correspondent
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Cybercrime costs societies billions of dollars
every year, but it is not easy for European citizens to report that
their digital identity has been stolen, according to anti-virus
software companies and police.
Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) three weeks ago
estimated the nation's cost of computer crime at $4.7 billion a
year. Yet common computer break-ins such as hacking, phishing and
identity theft must be reported to the local police.
Britain's police offer online forms for citizens to report
"non-emergency minor crimes" including theft, criminal vandalism and
damage to motor vehicles, but there is no special category for
Elsewhere in Europe, citizens are also mostly referred to local police
forces to report these crimes.
"It really is a problem. These crimes are global, but citizens work
with local police. Most of the police are trained to catch bank
robbers rather than Internet robbers," said Mikko Hypponen at
anti-virus company F-Secure in Finland, where citizens have to report
to local police.
Dutch police have admitted that most are ill equipped to deal with
"Victims of high-tech crime experience this every day," wrote Pascal
Hetzscholdt, policy adviser of the Dutch police's digital
investigation unit, in a recent article for a police detectives
"When reporting a crime, they find that the police have big problems
with taking and processing the technical aspects of the
incident. Police and the public prosecution also have trouble
estimating the importance," Hetzscholdt said.
Weak police skills lead to low interest, others say.
"The police are not interested, because there are too many viruses,
the subject is too complicated and the chances are slim that the
police will catch somebody," said senior technology consultant Graham
Cluley at British anti-virus firm Sophos. Without details from victims
of computer crimes, furthermore, investigators and prosecutors find it
more difficult to seek appropriate punishment for the offenders.
An NHTCU spokeswoman said every local police force in Britain had a
computer crime unit, while recognizing it was essential "we have to
keep training to keep up with the pace."
British police said computer crimes need to be reported to local
police but would be passed on to a specialized unit if needed.
To report unsolicited email, which for many office workers can run
into the dozens or hundreds every day, British citizens need to
download, print and fill in one form for every single spam message and
send it in the mail.
"It's not grown-up at the moment," Sophos's Cluley said.
In the United States, in contrast with the European situation, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation at least operates a national Internet
Fraud Complaint Center, to which businesses and citizens can report
cybercrimes http://www.ifccfbi.gov .
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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