Sussex is in the grip of a high-tech crimewave with dozens of eBay customers being targeted by criminals every month.

New figures reveal 290 incidents of fraud, theft and other crimes were reported to police by victims in the last financial year - an increase of 80 per cent on 2005.

Fraud accounted for the majority of incidents, with 209 complaints, while various forms of theft - including burglary and car stealing - made up 42 crimes.

Other crimes recorded in the statistics, released under the Freedom of Information Act, involved the handling of stolen goods, harassment, unauthorised access to computerised material and false representation.

The eBay website is an online marketplace for registered users to buy and sell goods. Common payment methods include cheque, postal order, or the online payment system PayPal.

Last August Shahzad Ali Shah, 23, from Crawley, bought a car on eBay was robbed at gunpoint when he went to hand over the cash. He agreed to meet the seller in east London to get his Mercedes Benz Kompressor C180 but when he arrived, four men surrounded his car, one man produced a gun and demanded the money.

Mr Ali Shah said: "It was a terrifying ordeal."

Some 20 million items are available on eBay with 3.5 million added every day. eBay's motoring site is the fastest-growing area, with a car sold every four minutes.

Adam Dovey, 23, of Trafalgar Road, Portslade, was jailed for ten months in March 2006 for conning people on eBay by selling them digital cameras or expensive mobile phones but not sending them out.

A week later Lee Sutton, 26, was given community service after police found a haul of fake designer clothes, belts and sunglasses at his home in Queens Gardens, Brighton, which he sold on eBay as the real article.

A spokesman from Sussex Police said: "So many of us are now dependent on computers and the internet in our working and personal lives be it for using email, reading the news, buying goods or all of these and more.

"This new technology and new way of living and working has brought a new breed of crime and a new style of policing."

The spokesman, writing on the Sussex Police website, said it was often difficult to track online criminals because they could be anywhere in the world and could hide behind another's identity.

Figures released by APACS, the UK payments association, showed spending on plastic over the last Christmas period reached a record £31 billion.

There were 669 million plastic card transactions in December 2006, equating to a record 250 transactions per second. Spending on plastic cards accounted for 63 per cent of total retail sales.

Overall card fraud has fallen, but internet, phone and card-not-present (CNP) fraud now accounts for 46 per cent of all losses - a proportion that is increasing.

Jemma Smith, of APACS, said: "It is important to be as wary online as you are when you open the front door - make sure you don't give out too much information and are being given what you expect.

"Before you do business with someone ask yourself, do you trust them? Is there anything suspicious about them? If it sounds like something too good to be true it probably is."

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