Mainland gang suspected of Hong Kong bank cash scam

Criminals use pinhole cameras and electronic card readers to steal data at ATM machines, then use fake cards to take cash, police warn

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 5:38am

Police believe a mainland syndicate is behind an ATM scam in Hong Kong that has seen personal data stolen and cash taken.

Pinhole cameras and false card slots equipped with card readers were installed in eight cash machines in the city.

Police say about 90 people could have had their personal data stolen and four of them lost a total of HK$46,000.

The four victims were among 40 card holders who used an ATM at the Yau Ma Tei Branch of Nanyang Commercial Bank, a subsidiary of the Bank of China, in Nathan Road.

The machine was targeted twice in a month.

"Investigators learnt that cash [HK$6,500] was subsequently withdrawn from the account of one of the four victims through an ATM on the mainland," a police source said.

The first of the cases came to light when Nanyang Commercial Bank checked security footage and saw three men installing and removing devices on the machine on September 22. Police were alerted two days later.

A pinhole camera fell from the same machine on October 21 as a customer was using it. Three fraudsters removed the devices, cleaned fingerprints off the ATM and fled before police arrived.

The next day three attempts were made to withdraw money from the account of one of the victims in Hong Kong, but the bank stopped the transactions.

The criminals place a false slot equipped with a card reader over the original card slot of the ATM to download bank data from the cards' magnetic strips.

A pinhole camera is used to spy on the PIN. A counterfeit card is then made to withdraw money from accounts.

There were two other cases in Kowloon West and four in the New Territories involving Fubon Bank, Bank of Communications, Bank of East Asia and Wing Hang Bank. "The majority of the cases were carried out by the same people and the equipment we seized was similar," a police officer said. "We believe a mainland gang is behind the scam."

In most cases the culprits did not wear masks or caps to hide their identities. The officer said Hong Kong police would seek help from the mainland authorities if necessary.

The investigation showed the machines were usually tampered with between 5.30pm and 9pm at weekends. In most cases the keypad covers of the machines were removed.

The two latest cases were on Sunday, when several men were spotted removing suspicious devices from an ATM at the Bank of East Asia in Tuen Mun Heung Sze Wui Road at about 6.15pm.

A pinhole camera was also found on an ATM at Fubon Bank in Kai Man Path nearby.

The commercial crime bureau has joined the investigation.

Related banks have notified their customers and arranged the replacement of affected clients' bank cards. Police have asked banks to step up security measures and enhance patrols.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said card issuers were responsible for bearing all the losses incurred by their customers when transactions were made with counterfeit cards.

It added: "The Hong Kong banking industry is implementing chip-based technology to further strengthen the security of ATM services."

The project is expected to be completed in 2015.


Always safeguard your bank cards and protect your Personal Identification Number

Contact the bank and police immediately if you find a suspicious device on an ATM

Cover the keypad and keep an eye out for anyone lurking close by when you key in your PIN

Tell the bank promptly if you spot a suspicious transaction on your account