HK$280,000 stolen as fraudsters target ATM

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2010, 12:00am

About HK$280,000 disappeared from 10 HSBC accounts after customers used an ATM in Tsim Sha Tsui last week, it was revealed yesterday.

A pinhole camera and a card-reading device - commonly known as a 'skimmer', which is placed inside the card slot of an ATM - had probably been installed, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He said the thieves would have used the pinhole camera to get the PIN of the cardholder, while the skimmer gathered card details.

The commercial crime bureau is investigating the incident. No one has been arrested.

On Thursday, the bank's computerised fraud monitoring system detected suspicious transactions from four accounts involving an ATM at the East Ocean Centre, an HSBC spokeswoman said.

Staff immediately checked the ATM. They found no sign of a skimmer but noticed signs of sticking tape in the ATM light box.

'From our experience, we believe a skimmer might have been installed in the ATM machine earlier,' the spokeswoman said.

About 100 customers used the machine on Thursday. Ten accounts were targeted and about HK$280,000 was withdrawn.

The spokeswoman said the bank would compensate the clients for their losses. It has suspended the cards of those who used the ATM and will issue them new cards.

HSBC had immediately reported the case to the police and the Monetary Authority, she said, and more guards had been deployed to patrol its ATM sites. The bank's computerised fraud monitoring system will check all ATM activities closely.

The authority unveiled the case yesterday, saying that it had asked the bank to conduct a detailed investigation and a thorough inspection of its ATM terminals.

All banks were reminded to place educational stickers on their ATMs to inform cardholders of the proper way to use them.

The regulator urged customers to cover the keypad while entering their PIN and report to their banks any suspicious devices on ATMs.

'In general ATMs are safe to use. Banks and customers are advised to take appropriate precautionary measures for extra protection,' an authority spokesman said.

Cases in which ATM card data were used by thieves to steal from accounts without the customers' cards ever being taken were reported as far back as 2003 and 2004.

There were 49 reports of theft involving ATM transactions in 2003. These included cases of thieves intercepting cards sent in the post and duplicating the data.

In early 2004 a repairman fixing a fluorescent light found two hi-tech pinhole cameras hidden in two ATMs outside a branch of the Hang Seng Bank in Tsuen Wan.

Each camera, equipped with a transmitter and batteries, was hidden behind a fake panel affixed to the top of the ATM casing.

The home-made panels were extremely thin and only about 7 centimetres high, matching the width of the ATMs and painted the same colour.