LONDON Companies for the first time report they are losing more through electronic theft of data than physical stealing of assets, risk consultancy Kroll said on Monday in an annual report on international fraud trends.
Fraud was most often an "inside job" carried out by a company's own employees, the poll of more than 800 senior executives worldwide showed. Worries over fraud were deterring many companies from expanding in some key emerging markets.
China appeared the key emerging market with the highest level of fraud, with 98 percent of businesses affected. This was followed by Colombia with 94 percent and Brazil with 90 percent.
The 2010 study showed the amount lost by businesses to fraud rose to $1.7 million per billion dollars sales worldwide from $1.4 million a year earlier, the report said -- although this might in part be due to better detection and awareness.
"How much fraud there is depends more on opportunity than anything else," Tommy Helsby, Kroll chairman for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told Reuters. "Much more work is done electronically, and that creates new opportunities for fraud. It takes time for companies to catch up with that."
Previous Global Fraud Reports showed physical theft of cash, assets and inventory as the most widespread form of fraud by a considerable margin. This year's findings showed electronic and information theft at 27.3 percent of total fraud losses, marginally above physical theft at 27.2 percent.
Information-based industries particularly financial services had by far the highest level of electronic theft followed by professional services and then technology, media and telecoms.
"There's a real range of dangers," said Helsby. "It can be simple theft or the risk of reputational damage if your firm loses customer data. That itself could be an existential threat to your business."
Junior employees and senior management were the most likely perpetrators of fraud. Staff or agents were the most common perpetrators of fraud in every region except Latin America where customers were the principal fraudsters.
Kroll's Helsby said the firm had also investigated data theft that appeared to have been carried out by a sovereign nation or state-linked firms particularly in emerging markets.
Analysts and Western spy agencies are increasingly concerned about "state capitalist" nations such as China stealing intellectual property from firms, but Helsby said from his anecdotal experience he could not say whether this was increasing or not.
Almost half of respondents said fear of fraud had dissuaded them from pursuing business opportunities in at least one foreign country -- particularly China, Africa and Latin America.
"That means you miss out on some of the fastest growing markets," said Helsby. "You can't make the risk go away, but you can manage it through having the right systems in place."
But perhaps because of the financial crisis, enthusiasm for new systems was falling. Only 48 percent of companies were planning on spending more on information security in the next 12 months, down from 51 percent last year.
The full report can be found here:
(Editing by Jon Boyle)