Friday, September 09, 2011

Cash Machine Fraud - Coming to a Branch Near You - Update

Here's a cautionary tale about the everyday risks of cash machine fraud. Hopefully we can all be a bit more vigilent following my unfortunate experiences.

I was defrauded early in the morning of 8th September at the Barclays Branch in Lingfield, Surrey.

I work in Crowborough as an electronics engineer - but live in Redhill. The cash machine at Barclays in Lingfield is conveniently on my route to work - so I often stop there before 7am to get some cash.

I pulled up at Barclays in Lingfield at almost 6:50 yesterday morning with the intention of getting £30 out and a mini-statement. Lingfield was quiet at that time, unusually no cars parked in the bays outside the bank. There was no sign of anyone around.

I put my card in as normal, keyed in my pin and selected Mini statement. This was printed out, and I checked my balance. I then selected the cash withdrawal option and keyed in £40 - as the tenners had run out.

The machine whirred and several times tried to return my card - beeping to remind me to take the card - which was thoroughly stuck inside the machine. After about 30 seconds, the machine brought up a screen saying that the machine was temporarily out of order - sorry for any inconvenience. I had a close look at the card slot and around the frame of the machine, didn't see anything out of the ordinary, and left in my car in a huff, wondering when Barclays would open and how and when I could get my card back - as I still had no cash.

I decided to go to the Crowborough Branch of Barclays, as I do most of my daytime transactions there and I am known to the staff. They would recognise me as a regular customer and be able to contact the Lingfield Branch on my behalf to arrange the card to be removed from the machine so that I could pick it up later.

I still was not suspecting ATM Fraud.

My Personal Banker at Crowborough Barclays, contacted the staff at Lingfield, only to be told that my card was not inside the machine - and I had visions of it being spat out when the next customer came along after me.

We then checked my balance, and found that within 15 minutes of me losing my card to the machine it had been used 3 times at the nearby HSBC cash machine at Lingfield Garage, and a total of £750 removed from my account - the maximum available in a day on that type of card.

I then called Barclays Fraud Division and went through a process of questions and form filling so that they would put an immediate stop on my card and could commence a fraud investigation.

I must add that by 10am, my account had been re-credited with the full £750 - courtesy of the Fraud Dept. At least that part was quick, efficient and helped to keep stress levels to a minimum.

It transpired that I was the next unwitting victim to a classic ATM fraud using a device known as a Lebanese Loop - but with a high-tech twist. It is a loop of thin plastic material inserted into the card slot of the ATM which prevents your card from being ejected by the machine, or being transferred into the card bin where it would be safely retained for the bank staff to find. The Lebanese Loop effectively leaves your card in limbo land, not safely in the secure card bin, but in the card slot - where only the thieves know how to retrieve it. In effect it is perfect device to hold your card safely within the cardslot until the fraudsters can come along and extract it. To the untrained, the device is virtually undetectable.

So they had my card - all they needed was my pin. Because it was so quiet at 7am in Lingfield - I was not considering taking any special precautions to obscure my pin. This is where this scam make the most of high-tech devices, including camera phones, wireless webcams and other everday consumer imaging devices. I believe that this was captured using a wireless video camera, placed somewhere on the ATM - or in the case of Lingfield - possibly above me - under the eaves of the overhanging roof.

Yesterday afternoon on the way home I returned to the ATM to look for any suspicious signs. I found what appeared to be the residue of double sided sticky tape on the frame of the ATM - probably where they secured the camera - disguised as part of the machine facia.

I spoke to a couple of locals - including a lady who's husband had the same experience at 10am on Wednesday night, at Barclays, Lingfield, - 9 hours before I was targeted. He lost £200 from his account - taken later from the HSBC in East Grinstead. The card was found nearby - dumped when it would no longer cough up cash. These crooks are local to Lingfield and East Grinstead or accessing the county rural towns via good links to the M25.

Subsequently I have advised the staff in the local newsagents to be vigilent about dubious characters hanging around in the very early morning and to warn their customers about the risks of using the ATM without looking for strange devices or protecting your PIN.

I also visited the Lingfield filling station to enquire whether their ATM was covered by the forecourt CCTV - as this is where the thieves went to access my account.

I have passed this information above to the Surrey Police. I'm out of my depth here - and don't wish to get further involved with highly organised, motivated, possibly violent crims. Leave it to the professionals.

I feel that this ATM crime is more widespread than the local banks would wish to have us believe. Targetting ATMs in the early morning and after dark gives the gangs maximum cover -and maximum opportunity to disappear - before the loss is reported.

Banks - how about a 24 hour hotline with the number on the front of the ATM - to advise you immediately what to do and who to call.

Or bring up an "ATM Crime Hotline" screen if the machine suspects it has gone into lockdown as a result of card mechanism tampering. You call thatnumber on the screen and get an immediate stop put on your card.

How about a special screen that allows you to cancel your card there and then if it gets retained - or at least put a temporary block on it so that it's worthless to the thieves?

None of the above is difficult and it would save a lot of grief, manpower and billions lost each year to ATM fraud.

I tweeted my experience to a couple of good friends who have 15,000 followers between them. This is the fastest way to warn people about this particular scam.

I'd like to thank the staff in the Crowborough Branch of Barclays for their support and assistance during this unsettling experience.

Update 1

This morning I called again at the Lingfield Barclays ATM - and the machine was again in "lock down". There is a high probability that the gang struck again earlier today and there are more innocent victims of this high-tech organised crime. It's time that the banks came clean about the extent of this, and issued clear warnings to their customers to be extra vigilent around outdoors cash machines.

Update 2

Those greedy and surprisingly stupid criminals left their camera device attached to the same ATM this morning. Surrey Police were called and the device handed over to the law.

They will now be looking at local garage forecourt CCTV footage from September 8th, to see if they see the criminals, or their vehicle, when they used my card at 07:03 am.

They may be smart and efficient at the Lebanese loop - but they forget that when tey cash in on your account they leave a timestamped trail of where they are. Sooner or later they will be caught on CCTV.

Having had a week in New York with no cash card has sharpened my focus on nailing those scumbags.

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