Sunday, May 19, 2024

International card thieves hit Gaborone banks

A security breach at some local banks has led to theft of money from customers’ accounts.

A Gaborone resident stopped off at Stanbic Bank’s auto-teller machine (ATM) to withdraw some money and discovered, to his horror, that his account had been cleaned out.

Upon enquiring from the bank (where he found other customers with the same problem) he was told that the money had been withdrawn in India, a country he has never been to. He subsequently produced his passport to back up his claim. Other withdrawals are said to have been made as far away as Ukraine.

The kind of fraud that these customers fell victim to is called card skimming and basically involves criminal gangs using highly sophisticated electronic equipment to set up and operate their own ATMs.

The gangs rig the ATM by affixing a false card slot over the original card slot. A skimming device in that contraption slot captures card details from the magnetic strip and transmits that information wirelessly to the criminals who would be sitting in a parked car nearby. The PIN is stolen by way of a telescopic camera angled to view the monitor and keypad and transmit wireless photographs of ATM PIN entries. This camera, which has its own battery and transmission antenna, can transmit up to 200 metres. Armed with this information, the skimmers are able to clone an exact replica of a customer’s card and use it to steal money.

The skimmers paid Gaborone a visit, performed that hi-tech wizardry and managed to compromise bank accounts of customers who used the phony ATMs set up by the skimmers.

For banks and for quite obvious reasons, this sort of breach is a public relations nightmare, which explains why two weeks after the skimmers hit, there has still been no public statement.

The problem though is that knowledge that skimmers are in town would be useful to customers as they would be more vigilant and avoid using suspicious ATMs.

Sunday Standard sought confirmation from Stanbic’s Public Relations department a week ago and was asked by a junior officer to send a questionnaire. That was done but three days later, Ruth Modisane, who heads that same department, said that there would be no need to respond to the questionnaire as the Banking Association of Botswana would be releasing a statement before the end of this past week.

Sunday Standard was able to independently verify such intent. However, as of end of business on Friday, no statement had been released and questionnaires sent to other banks said to also have been hit had not been answered by press time.

An industry source says this is information that banks would prefer to keep tightly under wraps because it greatly undermines the integrity of their payment systems and impacts negatively on the trust that customers have in them.
The scale of the skimming is yet unclear.

The Botswana Police Service spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Christopher Mbulawa, referred queries to the Serious Crime Squad where the officer who took our call could not immediately confirm the incident, explaining that he had been away for some time and needed to first get his ducks in a row.

Skimming is an international problem and leading payment systems like Visa have developed a set of comprehensive anti-skimming guidelines from time to time because the gangs involved in this crime are always fine-tuning their methods.

One of Visa’s recommendations is that ATM devices should be secured to prevent their substitution and should be protected against tampering. Another is the implementation of employment policies to ensure that appropriate background checks are carried out on employees who will be handling ATMs.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper