Byline: LUCIE MORRIS
ILLEGAL gambling sites on the Internet are cheating players as young as 14, experts warned yesterday.
The sites, set up by criminal gangs, often have fixed games or fail to pay out winnings.
Players who give bank or credit card details risk finding their accounts drained or implicated in fraud, the National Criminal Intelligence Service conference was told.
Sites often disappear without trace, along with millions of pounds in wagers placed by gamblers who will never see their money again.
The games, described as 'severely addictive', are usually available in virtual reality casinos, open 24 hours at the push of a button.
The police find it difficult to track down those behind the illegal games as electronic websites are not tied down to a specific location.
Adults, playing in the anonymity of their homes or offices, can lose their life savings and plunge into debt.
However, teenagers between 14 and 18 are the main targets.
They become so hooked on the excitement of the game and computer graphics that many use their parents' bank details to place bets on games ranging from poker to roulette.
Lewis Endlar, senior lecturer and consultant in business information technology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the problem was a 'serious and growing threat'.
'The introduction of criminal activity is widespread. There is evidence it is being used as a vehicle for money laundering and theft,' he told the conference in London.
'The technology is very addictive and gamblers are placing very high wagers.
'But they have no guarantee what is going to happen to their money and how the criminals will use their bank details. …