The growing threat posed by sophisticated cyber criminals has been highlighted by Angus Macpherson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon.
Mr Macpherson has warned to consumers and the owners of small and medium businesses that they need to be vigilant to reduce the chance of becoming victims.
He has also made clear that Wiltshire Police cannot tackle cyber crime alone because many fraudsters operate from internet cafes abroad.
Mr Macpherson was speaking as the Home Office launched its £4m Cyber Streetwise campaign which is designed to educate small businesses and consumers on how to avoid falling victim to the online thieves.
The government estimates that the total loss through fraud in England and Wales runs into tens of billions of pounds a year with tens of thousands of cyber crimes reported annually.
The Home Office has set up www.cyberstreetwise.com, an online portal which is intended to give insights and guidance to the owners of small and medium enterprises and to consumers.
According to a government survey, while 94 per cent of people believe it is their personal responsibility to ensure a safe internet experience:
• Only 44 per cent always install internet security software on new equipment
• Only 37 per cent download updates and patches for personal computers when prompted – falling even further to a fifth (21 per cent) for smartphones and mobile devices
• Less than a third (30 per cent) habitually use complex passwords to protect online accounts
• And fifty seven per cent do not always check websites are secure before making a purchase.
Mr Macpherson said: “Unfortunately cyber crime is the big growth area in crime, so I very much welcome this Home Office initiative.
“The Wiltshire Police fraud team investigates frauds against victims in the county which are carried out by criminals within the UK jurisdiction.
"But the problem is that cyber crime needs more international co-operation between governments.
“These criminals are extremely mobile. I’m told they will gain access to victims’ accounts from a faraway internet cafe, transfer funds and then quickly move on before their position can be pinpointed.
"Others will work from laptops which they discard once the crime has been committed in order to cover their tracks.
“We all need to be far more canny by ensuring that we have good online security on our computers.
“Those of us who use smartphones for online banking or shopping need to be particularly vigilant.
“Some stores are developing pay points so that customers can place their phone against the point and their account is debited.
“Online shopping and banking is extremely convenient, and enormously popular but it carries big risks.
“I would urge business people and consumers to visit Cyberstreetwise.com and take careful note of the advice.”
Detective Sergeant Jon Lee, head of Complex Fraud at Wiltshire Police, said: “Cyber crime is very much a hidden crime – it’s hard to know the true scale of the problem.
“This isn’t just a crime that affects people in Wiltshire or in the UK, it’s a global problem.
“For the victims of cyber crime, it can be an extremely traumatic and often embarrassing experience.
“Some people choose not to report the crime for these reasons, but I would always urge anyone who feels they are a victim or potential victim of cyber crime, in any form, to contact Action Fraud via www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
“The introduction of this Cyber Streetwise campaign shows the government’s intent to positively tackle cyber crime.
"I would ask our local communities to heed the information offered to ensure we remain as savvy and vigilant as possible when using any online outlet.”
There are five steps people can take to protect themselves and others from cyber crime:
1. Use strong, memorable passwords
2. Install anti-virus software on new devices
3. Check privacy settings on social media
4. Shop safely online – always check online retail sites are secure
5. Download software and application patches when prompted.