Germans are increasingly afraid of becoming the target of cyber-criminals, with 85 percent fearing thieves will steal their credit card data or gain online access to bank accounts.

According to a survey by German tech industry association Bitkom published on Thursday, the number of Internet users over the age of 14 fearing such an attack has risen to 85 percent this year compared with 75 percent in 2010.

Data confirm the problem is growing, prompting the German federal police (BKA) to warn Internet users that perpetrators are extremely innovative and can adapt to rapidly changing security measures.

Part of the problem is that one in five people still does not use any form of computer protection, Bitkom said.

Law enforcement around the world is scrambling meanwhile to combat cyber crime, while each week seems to brings a new attack -- from activists promoting a cause, to more serious security breaches and data thefts at Sony Corp, Citigroup or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The various types of digital blackmail, for example, are rising as more people are coerced into paying some form or ransom so their stolen data won't be sold over the Internet or to put an end to cyber-attacks on corporate websites.

Cyber-criminals are increasingly relying on social engineering. They try to gain access to sensitive information, by putting employees under pressure or taking advantage of their willingness to help, BKA President Joerg Ziercke said in a statement.

Last year, the number of cybercrimes in Germany increased by 19 percent while ensuing damages jumped by two-thirds to 61.5 million euros ($87.5 million), data from the federal police showed.

So-called phishing of online-bank data nearly doubled, with the average damage amounting to roughly 4,000 euros.

In an effort to combat cyber crime, Germany launched a cyber attack defense center this month.

In the United States, Defcon -- the world's biggest gathering of hackers held in Las Vegas every summer -- is taking a different approach.

This year it will kick off the first Defcon Kids conference for children between eight and 16 to learn the skills of computer hackers, as well as to protect themselves against cyber attacks.

U.S. federal agents plan to use the occasion to size up tech-savvy youngsters who could form the next generation of digital crime-fighters.

($1 = 0.705 Euros)

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner and Nicola Leske; editing by Michael Roddy)