Wifi skimmers, remote copying devices the latest in their arsenal

More than six gangs involved in credit/debit card frauds have been busted by police teams over the past four years.

Interestingly, each gang used unique techniques to con bank customers foxing not just the banks, but the police as well.

Skimmer — the bank card racketeer’s most reliable work tool used to illegally copy victims’ card data — first came to light in October 2009 following the arrest of international credit card fraudster Umesh alias Shorty. The Sri Lankan national and his gang managed to siphon close to Rs. 2 crore from Chennai bank account holders by planting advanced skimmers in numerous ATMs across the city.

One victim, a housewife from Velachery, was shocked to find Rs. 40,000 withdrawn from her account, in Manchester, England. She had never travelled out of the country but Shorty’s gang managed to sell her card data to international racketeers. Then there was a gang that intercepted fresh credit card despatches by luring courier delivery personnel. The culprits opened the cover and meticulously sealed it again after cloning the card before delivering it to the original customer.

When investigators began to crack the whip, fraudsters graduated to common points of sale, including petrol stations, restaurants and supermarkets. Racketeers used ‘runners’ — salesmen employed at retail outlets — and equipped them with the skimmer device to discreetly copy bank cards of customers. These were later cloned and used to withdraw large sums of money or make illegal purchases.

On February 2012, another gang put the skimmer to use by planting it at the entry point of an ATM kiosk in Madipakkam. The amateur contraption, however, jammed the door resulting in the police discovering the fraud. With new gangs, including one led by a suspect wanted by Interpol, resurfacing in Chennai recently, investigators suspect racketeers are moving towards technological advancement, especially wifi skimmers or remote card copying devices.

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Remember the days when people would hide their salary amount in lunch boxes fearing pickpockets? Now, with the advent of electronic clearance service and debit/credit cards, if you thought your money was safe, you are wrong.

Pickpockets have been replaced by hackers and credit card fraudsters. Unless you are careful while making online transactions or using your card for shopping or in ATMs, your hard-earned money can be swindled.

Senior police officers have, for years, been advising people against writing their PIN on ATM card covers. “If it falls into the wrong hands, anybody can make purchases using it or even withdraw money,” warns an officer.

Besides, it is better to be near the counter when your debit/credit card is swiped in petrol bunks or restaurants. “Even when you punch in the PIN at points-of-sale, make sure no one sees it. As far as possible, withdraw money from ATMs near banks to avoid the risk of your card being copied with a skimmer,” said the officer.

Make online purchases only from websites that are authentic. “Avoid it as far as possible or use a debit card,” he said.

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