PERSONAL information on tens of thousands of Worcester residents is available to criminals on the internet.
Details ranging from home addresses to bank account numbers are being held on 30,871 people living in the postcode areas WR1 to WR8.
In 2,380 cases ‘high-risk’ information is up for sale including credit card numbers, passwords and security answers for online accounts.
According to C6 Intelligence – the company which carried out the search for the Observer – the material is easy to access for those in the know.
Chief Executive Officer, Darren Innes, said: “As members of the public we only see between ten and 20 per cent of the internet. Lots of websites which are set up are purely being used by criminals.
“We call it the ‘dark web’ and it’s the same place where drugs are sold and people go to get child pornography.
“The sale of personal data is almost risk-free crime because it’s so hard to stop. When one site is shut down another opens up just a few hours later. People are getting away with it because the risk is so low.”
The search by C6 Intelligence found 927 credit card numbers of city residents, 174 of which came with the three-digit security code printed on the back of bank cards.
More than 1,200 email and password combinations were available to buy, as were 31 account numbers and 14 answers to security questions.
Mr Innes said criminals gathered personal data through a combination of sophisticated hacking and finding that readily available on social media websites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
He added: “Worryingly the information available is growing yearly. At the beginning of this year we were finding 13,000 pieces of data each day. In the last two months this had risen to an average of 658,000 per day.
“The threat is very real and most people only find out they have been victim to dark web crime when they check their bank statements and see an unexpected transaction, or when they apply for credit and are refused.”
According to West Mercia Police, cyber crime cost people in the region almost £400,000 last year.
C6 Intelligence recommend changing passwords regularly and having a different password for each online account.