Online fraud special report

Tuesday, 14 May 2002, 6:50 PM EST

The resulting frustration for investigators, companies and consumer victims raises a question that has persisted for years: Why are hackers able to elude capture so easily? The answer, according to security analysts and fraud investigators, is that the Internet has bred an elite class of criminals who are organized, well funded and far more technologically sophisticated than most law enforcement officials.

Fraud cost e-tailers $700 million in lost merchandise last year, says Avivah Litan, a financial analyst for research firm Gartner. Some large Internet retailers have software that screens transactions and refuses to sell to customers who appear suspicious. Litan estimates that this costs Web stores between 5 percent and 8 percent of sales.

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