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THE ISSUE: Warning to ATM card users


Natasha Beckles

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Barbados recorded what is most likely the largest case of automatic teller machine fraud in its history two weeks ago when more than $500 000 was stolen.
According to the October 11, 2013 WEEKEND NATION the two?Bulgarians arrested for the crime were part of an organized, eastern bloc crime group who travel the world committing ATM?fraud.
Local police were working with Interpol to track down other members of the group and reports indicated that two other Caribbean countries had also made arrests.
Members of the international crime syndicate travel around the world using devices known as skimming machines to hack customer accounts.
They instal card readers on the ATM just on top of the slot where the card is inserted and use minute cameras to record the keystrokes when a PIN?number is entered.
For the past three years the Bulgarians, considered number one in the world in making ATM?skimming devices, have been travelling to places such as the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, committing major ATM fraud. Back in 2011 a Bulgarian crime group pilfered over 15 000 credit cards in Europe and made off with more than $70 million from European banks.
Local police are now convinced that because these countries have been able to successfully arrest a number of Bulgarian operatives and infiltrate their sophisticated operation, they are now casting their sights on Caribbean countries.
“They travel the world committing this type of crime,” a police source said. 
It is understood that some members travelled to Barbados last month observing the practices at ATM?machines across the island. Last Saturday they were able to skim more than $500 000 from several machines in one day.
A local banker said in order for Barbados to prevent this type of crime, banks would have to transfer their ATMS from technology-based on magnetic strips to more secure microchip technology – which can be very costly.
The October 9, 2013 MIDWEEK NATION reported that the Bulgarians hit several machines along the West and South Coasts. They were caught at the airport with the cash hidden in suitcases, their underwear and shoes. Police also seized laptops and card readers believed to be used in the commission of these crimes.
The passports which were seized from the two men by immigration officials showed they had travelled to several countries, including Antigua, Jamaica, Paraguay, Mexico and Venezuela, among others.
At the time they were arrested the two were said to be on their way to Antigua via a LIAT flight.
A source indicated that Antigua was also stamped several times in their passports.
Commenting on the issue, Steve Belle, chief executive officer of the City of Bridgetown Co-operative Credit Union, said management was still monitoring the situation.
He said the credit union, which boasts more than $350 million in assets, “had actually reviewed its systems” over the weekend and no issues were found.
“We have a very effective risk-management strategy in place to actually identify skimming where it happens. As you would appreciate, with the best risk-management strategies, technology is such that people come up with different ways.
“We have actually reviewed our systems this weekend and we have not seen anything to indicate there has been skimming.”
He said, however, that they were not yet out of the woods as it was possible for issues to later emerge among its more than 50 000 members. Reports however indicate that another credit union may have been targeted.
In the May 13, 2013 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, Barbados was warned to be on the lookout for signs of credit card and ATM fraud.
The caution came from NCR Corporation, the global leader in consumer transaction technologies.
Marketing and deployment self-service manager Ricardo Saenz said global trends suggested that fraud was on the increase, especially in tourist destinations.
“I have been to some of the other islands and I know they are working on it but I would insist that more effort is taken to really be on the lookout because lately fraud has been moving to tourist locations and the Caribbean is an important tourist location,”?he said.
“We have already seen it in the Dominican Republic, so we have to be very careful.” 
Noting too that some Latin American countries were already seeing an upsurge in credit and debit card fraud, Saenz said culprits were becoming more sophisticated.
He said scammers were known to use creative ways of stealing cardholder information, for example by installing cameras in ATMs or by a method known as skimming.
“Cards are not only skimmed in ATMs. The largest skimming operations go on at the point of sales in stores and especially restaurants. That is the most dangerous place . . . . So we have to teach customers to be more protective of their cards and information,” he cautioned.
Skimming is the theft of credit card information through the use of a small electronic device (skimmer) to swipe and store the cardholder’s information for later use.
Saenz said fraudsters were investing heavily in their schemes, and suggested that governments put more stringent measures in place for the legal system to better deal with those guilty of fraud.
He added: “Unfortunately . . . the bad guys can go free very quickly because there are legal ways around things; they can always get out on bail and they disappear.”

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