Cybercrime and other forms of economic crime are hitting companies in all sectors of industry, but telecommunications and IT companies appear to be among the most targeted, according to a survey released by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC).

In its Global Economic Crime Survey 2003, PwC said that 47 percent of telecommunications and 46 percent of IT companies surveyed reported suffering from economic crimes, figures only exceeded by the banking and insurance industries. The survey covered 3,623 companies from all industry sectors in 50 countries.

But PwC warned that the apparent high incidence of economic crime in high-tech companies may partly reflect the ability of companies in those well-regulated sectors to detect crime.

"Due to their regulation, those companies have usually developed more sophisticated control and compliance systems," PwC said in the report. "The higher reported levels of fraud in those sectors partly reflect higher sensitivity to -- and detection of -- economic crime."

Economic crime covers many areas, including theft, financial misrepresentation, product piracy, money laundering, bribery and cybercrime.

While asset misappropriation, or theft, was the biggest reported category, 15 percent of the companies surveyed reported suffering losses from cybercrime. The average loss to cybercrime among the companies was US$812,000, but over two-thirds of the companies said they could not put an accurate figure on how much cybercrime had cost them.

As well as monetary loss, cybercrime had a strong negative effect on staff morale, business relations and company reputation, PwC reported.

"A failure to tackle -- or at least manage the risk of -- economic crime effectively can store up long-term operational problems for any enterprise," PwC said in the report.

The companies surveyed said that cybercrime was one of their biggest fears in the future, with 31 percent of companies saying it represented their biggest risk of financial loss over the next five years.

"Whilst the effects of cybercrime can be extremely severe for those companies targeted, it appears that many cyber criminals are extremely selective in their targets," PwC said. "Companies that have not yet been made a target may be breathing a premature sigh of relief."