SHOCK figures reveal that one in nine Dorset residents have had private information stolen and sold to crooks by internet hackers.
A staggering 81,326 personal information files ranging from names and addresses to credit and debit card details of Dorset residents are available for sale on “The Deep Web”, according to internet security experts C6 Intelligence.
Members of the public are now being urged to beef up their internet security, including changing passwords and email addresses, as the intelligence firm warns there are likely to be more information files out there, and cyber criminals are now starting to hack into our mobile phones and tablets to steal our personal details.
The Deep Web, also called the Dark Web and Hidden Web, is the layer of Internet underneath what we can see through our normal Internet browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. It is impossible to see through these browsers, and can only be accessed by specific encryptions users have to download.
The majority of files, a huge 47, 648, have been obtained from residents living in DT1 to DT11 postcodes, with the rest from Bournemouth and Poole.
Darren Innes, chief executive of C6 Intelligence, said Internet crooks are hacking into the internet pages where we enter our personal information, from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to online shopping sites, copying the information we enter and then selling it to criminal gangs on The Deep Web.
The figures, obtained by the Echo from the intelligence firm, show that in south and west Dorset, 3,591 of the personal information files are considered “high risk”.
This means that the files may have already been sold to the gangs who are now using them, meaning one-in-13 people in the area have already had their identity stolen.
Passwords and emails have been obtained from 1,620 people and 1,391 credit and debit card details from people in south and west Dorset are now available online.
Account numbers, addresses, dates of birth and “secret answers” – a question people are asked if they forget their password – are also part of some of the information files.
Mr Innes said his firm and other national internet security agencies are fighting a constant battle to try and prevent internet hackers stealing identities.
Mr Innes said: “People have to realise the internet is like an iceberg, what the majority of people see on the internet, through search engines such as Google and Yahoo, and the sites they visit on standard browsers, is only about four per cent of the whole internet.
“The rest is sites and areas only accessible by passwords and encryptions that you just don’t see and this is where the information is traded.
“The belief of our governments, and of C6, is that is where a lot of criminality takes place, from buying and selling drugs, to paedophilia and ordering hitmen.
“It’s really where the terrorist group ISIS, now called IS, came into its own and this is where the stolen identities are for sale.
“We have been able to penetrate around 50 sites that sell this information and found these figures for Dorset, but there are far more out there.
“If your information has been stolen, you are incredibly vulnerable.”
Dorset Police and Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, is constantly fighting to find and prosecute fraudsters who steal identities online.
A spokesman for Dorset Police said: “Dorset Police takes the issue of identity theft seriously and it’s important that people take precautions to protect themselves online.
“Action Fraud is the National Fraud Reporting Centre and co-ordinates police forces across the country to ensure cyber criminals are brought to justice.
“We work hard to investigate these crimes, however it is important for members of the public to actively prevent fraud happening to them by protecting their details both online and offline.”
C6 Intelligence has now launched a new website for people to check if their identity has been stolen and for more information visit hasmyidentitybeenstolen.com.
COMPUTER specialist Zak Fowler has urged people to frequently scan their computers for viruses and malware programs to try and protect themselves against identity fraud.
Mr Fowler, 19, works at Weymouth-based computer repair company Quick Click, and said one of the main methods cyber criminals use to gain access to someone’s computer system is by viruses and malware pop-ups. He said Quick Click often deal with customers who have downloaded malware or viruses and that the only solution was to “wipe” the computer’s system.
Mr Fowler said: “Malware and viruses are common. The main difference between malware and a virus is that malware pops up on your screen, but you won’t see a virus.
“The best thing people can do is make sure they have a fire wall on their computers or laptops, and on the wireless router if they have one.
“If they do have a wireless router, they should also make sure it has a high level of encryption to WPA2 which will stop people getting into the system.
“People should be constantly checking that their Windows programme is up to date, regularly changing passwords, and regularly scanning their computers, at least once a week as this will detect problems.”
Mr Fowler added that people should be “careful” when downloading any sort of programme or attachment online, and urged people to double check what personal information they put on to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
He said: “Don’t open attachments in an email that you are unsure about and never download anything unless it’s from a genuine website.
“Even when downloading something from a genuine website, like Google Chrome, always un-tick every box for add-ons when you are downloading it as that is how the viruses and malware get into a system.
“Also, always check the terms and conditions of any program you are downloading. People often just skip it but even if they skim read it they might see something which could have an effect on their computer.