With theft by fake ATM cards, victims are last to find out

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2003, 12:00am

Duplicates were made from stolen personal data and used to steal cash

Police are investigating a series of bank frauds in which ATM card data was used by thieves to steal from accounts without the customers' cards ever going missing.

Chief Superintendent Wong Fook-chuen, head of the commercial crime bureau, issued a warning over the fraud yesterday after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority confirmed on Monday that it had received reports of 29 fraud cases involving transactions at ATMs of five banks so far this year. The losses totalled $1.2 million.

Mr Wong said that it was particularly worrying that money was being withdrawn from ATM machines without the customers' cards. Only the data on the card was required, which was then duplicated by the fraudsters.

He said that in some cases the criminals had stolen new cards from letterboxes, copied the data, then replaced them without the customer noticing. However, he said there was no evidence to show the crimes involved bank staff. Nor could it be established if a single syndicate was behind the crimes.

'Such kinds of fraud cases are not new. They first emerged a few years ago,' Mr Wong said. 'All the perpetrators need are your card's data and its PIN. They would then use the data to make a card and use it to steal money,' he said.

Mr Wong said there were also culprits who first stole a victim's wallet in a restaurant and phoned the restaurant to ask for the victim.

'The culprit would then tell the victim that he is calling from the police station and ask the victim if he has lost his wallet. The victim would also be asked to reveal the PIN of his bank cards for police to check,' Mr Wong said.

In Malaysia and on the mainland, criminals had been known to install pinhole cameras at ATMs to spy on victims as they typed in their PINs, Mr Wong said. But such a scheme had yet to be detected in Hong Kong, he added.

He said it was important for people to properly protect their card data and collect any new bank cards personally instead of having them mailed, whenever possible.

A security expert from MasterCard International said there had been cases overseas in which criminals attached tiny devices to ATM machines which read the data off the cards' magnetic strips. Mr Wong advised people to contact the bank if they found any irregularities with an ATM.

Five of the victims approached Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan this week for help.

His office contacted the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to try to arrange for reimbursement. In only one case, however, did a bank agree to do so. The Bank of China replaced $150,000 stolen from a man's savings account last October.