9,000 credit cards illegally copied in scam on stores


ABOUT 9,000 credit and debit cards have been illegally skimmed by a criminal gang in the biggest attempted payment card fraud to date in the Republic.

Information needed to clone the cards was skimmed after payment terminals in a number of stores were tampered with by men posing as engineers carrying out maintenance on behalf of banks.

Gardaí said last night they had "intercepted" 47 devices in a number of retail stores since the end of last week. They declined to say where the stores were located, citing operational reasons.

The bogus engineers fitted technology to the payment terminals which recorded all of the information on the cards that were used to make purchases at the terminals.

The skimming devices also recorded the PIN number of the cards, enabling debit and credit cards to be cloned.

The skimming technology is based on mobile phone technology.This means the skimmed data could be downloaded from the payment terminals from anywhere in the world.

However, because of the speed with which gardaí, retailers and card providers reacted over the weekend, it appears none of the skimmed information had been accessed by the gang before the alarm was raised.

The scam attempt first came to light on Thursday evening when one retailer was alerted by software that one of its terminals had been illegally tampered with.

An existing terminal had been replaced by one which had been fitted with the skimming technology. Sources said the men behind the scam were trained engineers with a very high level of expertise.

Over the weekend four further cases came to light. Just over 9,000 payment cards were used on the five payment terminals targeted by the gang.

The terminals, which were in major department stores in the east and northeast of the Republic, were yesterday being technically examined by gardaí.

The major retailers targeted have been able to give CCTV images of the would-be fraudsters to gardaí. The gang, who are believed to be foreign nationals, were being sought last night.

However, there are no immigration checks at points of departure at the Republic's ports, meaning those responsible could slip out of the country by ferry or into the North with relative ease.

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation is working with the retailers and banks involved. Preliminary checks on the machines suggest the information skimmed had not been downloaded by the gang before the alarm was raised.

"It looks like we've foiled it before the cards were compromised, but it might take a while before we're certain of that," a senior Garda source said.

Any cards cloned could not be used in the Republic because anti-fraud chip and PIN technology is used by banks and retailers here.

However, cloned cards could be used in countries where chip-and- PIN technology is not in use, such as Canada and Italy. Some banks have reduced the maximum daily withdrawal limit to €100 for their customers seeking to withdraw money overseas.

The Bank of Ireland said a reduced maximum withdrawal limit had been placed on the affected accounts for withdrawals in some countries. It is believed about 3,000 Bank of Ireland cards were skimmed.

All of the bank's customers have had a maximum daily limit of €250 placed on their cards for overseas withdrawals for 48 hours. ATM withdrawals in Ireland are unaffected, as are laser transactions here or abroad.

Bank of Ireland said it was making a priority of contacting affected customers, and said any money stolen would be refunded.

The Irish Timesunderstands all of the major card providers have been exposed to the attempted scam. These include AIB, Ulster Bank, Permanent TSB, National Irish Bank, First Active, EBS and MBNA.

According to the Irish Payment Services Organisation, card issuers are contacting customers whose cards were skimmed. New cards are being issued and any losses will be reimbursed by card issuers. Ipso said it was working to prevent a repeat of the scam.

Advice for cash cardholders

THE IRISH Payment Services Organisation has advised any cardholder who believes their card may have been skimmed to contact their card provider.

Ipso has also urged all payment card holders to check their statements routinely and to report any unfamiliar transactions immediately.

It says card holders should not become overly anxious because any money stolen from an account will be reimbursed by the bank or credit card provider.