A SURGE in credit and debit card fraud has prompted a police force to launch a campaign to halt the criminals.

Detectives in County Durham have put the increase down to the boom in the number of people holding plastic cards and the growth in so-called "card not present" crimes, where crooks buy goods over the Internet using numbers found on receipts.

Hundreds of posters are being sent to shops and garages across the county, outlining a series of crime prevention measures.

The campaign has been launched to link with Card Security Week, organised by the Association of Payment Clearing Services.

Police are targeting stores which are most vulnerable to card fraud.

The crime is estimated to have cost the country £189m, forcing the industry to consider additional security measures.

Durham Police's specialist credit card fraud unit, based at the Durham City headquarters, is concerned about the number of thefts from vehicles at beauty spots and tourist attractions.

Thieves broke into a car at Chester-le-Street's Riverside car park and used the owner's credit card to buy goods worth £1,100 from supermarkets and DIY stores across Tyne and Wear within three hours.

Crime prevention officer PC Brian George said: "We would urge people never to leave their plastic cards unattended, especially in a vehicle.

"It takes just seconds for a thief to break in and make off with your card, and within minutes use it to buy or order almost anything."

Police are also urging people to check the whereabouts of their cards on a regular basis.