It's easy to tell which kids in [the town of Ramnicu Valcea, Romania] have helped to make it a global center for criminal hacking and Internet scams. They're the pupils who come to school wearing the best clothes and gold jewelry in a region of Romania where chickens are raised in yards and roads are full of potholes.
"In our high school, almost everyone in the 11th and 12th grade did it," said Alina, 22, who worked for a man who bilked Americans and others out of their money online by offering for sale products that did not exist.
Alina, who asked for anonymity out of fear that she would be exposed for criminal actions, said she didn't feel bad about it at the time.
"You rarely feel you're doing any harm when your victim is somewhere across the ocean," she said.
Cybercrime is in the news lately after Target admitted that a massive data hack may have compromised the personal information of as many as 110 million customers.
And Reuters reported Sunday that upscale retailer Neiman Marcus has also been the victim of a security breach of credit card customer information. Security firms said the thefts may have originated in Eastern Europe, where Romania has been a focal point of international cyber-fraud investigators for years now.
The FBI and U.S. Secret Service have been involved in numerous arrests of Romanians who target Americans. In response to the rise, in October the Council of Europe -- a body that oversees cooperation between European countries -- picked the Romanian capital of Bucharest for its latest cybercrime program office.
FBI instructors have trained nearly 600 Romanian investigators in combating cybercrime, according to the U.S. Embassy.
In announcing the creation of the new office, Romanian President Traian Basescu said he hoped repentant scammers might help police track down cybercriminals.
"Maybe we'll manage to bring our performing hackers to the good side of the barricade," he said.
Romania investigators say there were about 1,000 cases of cybercrime in 2012. Police in Ramnicu Valcea, a town of 120,000 people, say every year they arrest around 100 people on cybercrime charges.
Worldwide, individuals and businesses lose around $397 billion a year due to hacking, according to Europol.
Virgil Spiridon, the head of the Romanian National Police's Cybercrime Unit, say the cases take years to litigate because of the difficulty in catching sophisticated hackers. Basescu says his country cannot hope to end the enterprise because it doesn't have the resources to do it. (continued...)
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