ATM scam netted HK$800,000
Bank security is under renewed scrutiny with the arrest of a gang of international conmen who withdrew more than HK$800,000 from two ATM machines over a two-week period using blank cards with magnetic strips encoded with stolen data.
Detectives from the commercial crime bureau said yesterday that the two Bulgarian men and a Canadian who made up the gang had used card data stolen with cloning devices in Europe - mostly Italy and France - to withdraw money in Hong Kong.
The trio, aged between 30 and 47, arrived in the city between May 3 and 4 and withdrew between HK$1,000 and HK$3,000 per card daily, the maximum they could withdraw using overseas cards. They were arrested in the early hours of yesterday, acting suspiciously at an ATM in Queen's Road, Central.
Police moved in after a tip-off from two banks that 11 bogus cards had been swallowed by machines. Investigators went to a serviced flat in Sheung Wan and seized 196 bogus bank cards and HK$700,000 in Hong Kong, US and Canadian currencies.
The police have refused to reveal which banks were involved, but Hang Seng Bank confirmed last night that one of its ATMs was involved and that it was reviewing security.
Superintendent Fong Kwok-wah of the commercial crime bureau said the gang made use of the time difference between Hong Kong and Europe to avoid being discovered.
'They usually withdrew money early in the morning, like 5am, 6am or 1am, to avoid the banking industry discovering abnormal transactions immediately,' he said.
Chief Inspector Paul Edward Bailey of the same unit said: 'Hong Kong is a very free economy. We have a very efficient banking system and it is also a great destination, so I think people choose to come to Hong Kong.'
Notebook computers, iPhones and other items worth a total of HK$100,000, believed to have been bought with stolen money, were also found. The data encoded on the cards was either bought illegally or retrieved by the criminals using special devices.
Police were investigating how many people's personal data had been compromised.
Fong emphasised there was no evidence to suggest that the use of counterfeit cards to withdraw money in Hong Kong was on the increase.
Police confiscated 715 bogus credit cards or payment cards in 2009 and 611 in 2010. In January, three Romanians were arrested after 29 fake payment cards were used to withdraw HK$2 million. Officers were still investigating if the two cases were linked.
Is the total number of fake credit or payment cards confiscated in 2009 and 2010. But police say the use of fake cards is not on the increase