PAEDOPHILE rings, internet fraud, and identity theft are all high technology crimes that are receiving more and more coverage.
But these crimes and others could be using unwitting members of the public both at work and at home.
At a seminar for business leaders at the Bryn Howel Hotel, Llangollen, police specialists in hi-tech crime warned of the dangers of lax internet security.
Whether using broadband internet or standard dial-up connection, whether you use a computer you've owned for years or you're buying one this Christmas, any computer in Wrexham could be used by international criminals to steal millions or transmit harmful material without you even knowing it.
North Wales Police is taking a lead in the establishment of a national and international response to high-technology crime and has teamed up with the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) and the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) to hold a series of seminars to help educate business leaders in the art of maintaining security.
'We are not scaremongering because the internet is a vital tool for people to use to save money on purchases, to bank with and to communicate with,' said NHTCU industry liaison Tony Neate.
'But both businesses and the community need to be aware that internet security is their responsibility and is crucial to the war on crime. Businesses are often wary of reporting internet crime because it could affect their share price or customer confidence.
'Unless it is reported we cannot tackle it, so the police have signed up to a confidentiality pledge that ensures we will not publicise the details of organisations who report internet crimes.'
Despite the main focus of the seminar being on business, the home is one of the weakest points in the security net. A standard PC is capable of not only unlocking a world of criminal tips and advice, but also picking up and passing on dangerous viruses and programmes that organised criminals, particularly in Eastern Europe, use to steal millions of pounds from businesses, banks and individuals.
In Wrexham and Flintshire, where a lot of businesses are now dotcom enterprises, this is a crucial matter which could make or break companies.
'A computer is not a white good like a fridge that just motors on in the corner,' said Tony.
'It need updating with the latest patches and firewalls to protect it from being used in an international crime network.
'There are many clever methods these criminals use to get your details. They send e-mails, known as phishing, claiming to be from a business or bank you are associated with and offering a site link to your bank's web address.
'When you click on it, a page will come up that looks just like your bank's website but when answering your security questions look carefully, criminal sites ask for more details than official ones.
'Once they have this info they can clear your bank account.
'Another danger is broadband users who are online continuously. They are an easy target for e-criminals to attach Trojan programmes or other programmes that latch on to your computer and are forwarded to other computers via yours. Some can even be commanded to attack other computers via your machine.'
Detective Inspector Chris Corcoran, chair of the Welsh Hi-Tech Working Group, said that the work done now in Wales would resonate across Britain.
'We know about organised crime doing this internationally,' he said. 'We have no idea how many people are doing it in Wales. What we do know is that there are a lot of different programmes being sent around and they are enabling people to commit crime that is preventable.
'We do not leave the windows of our homes and businesses open for people to come in and steal, why do we do it with our computers?
'The police are not offering IT support for businesses, we are offering security advice and support in a bid to safeguard Welsh businesses.'
Patrick Sullivan,WDA director of Media Technology programmes, said 'We need to educate businesses and consumers that security is paramount.
'The police are doing an excellent job keeping up with the criminals, it is time businesses and the community helped them take the lead and beat the criminals by taking computer security seriously and reporting incidents when they happen.'
A WDA conference is planned in Cardiff on February 8 where ideas for helping small and medium-sized enterprises fund internet security will take place in a bid to protect small businesses that are taking advantage of new technology.
If you would like more information about the NHTCU or need to report e-crime call 0870 2410549 or visit www.nhtcu.org.