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Plastic money gives real trouble

Criminals are getting more technology-savvy. Result: Magic pens whose ink disappears, new ways of forging cheques and rising debit/credit card frauds. Karn Pratap Singh reports. What is skimming? | Dos and don’ts

delhi Updated: May 10, 2012 01:38 IST
Karn Pratap Singh

It's a small 3.5x2 inch piece of plastic, but it packs a punch. Especially when it gets lost, or is stolen.

This is exactly what happened with Vyjayanti Raghavan, an associate professor at JNU's School of Language, Literature and Culture Study. Three of Raghavan's credit cards were stolen and used for shopping in Lajpat Nagar. Following her complaint to the south Delhi Police, two B.Tech students were arrested for stealing her cards.

Raghavan was comparatively lucky. She was robbed of only Rs. 13,000. The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) - which only probes economic offences, that too those worth Rs. 2 crore and above - registered 258 cases of credit/debit card frauds in 2011. In 2010, it had registered 192 cases. And till April 30 this year, the department has registered 51 cases of credit/debit frauds and arrested only eight persons.

According to Delhi Police data, there has been a rise of more than 35% in cases related to credit/debit card frauds, registered with the EOW in 2011 compared with 2010.

The latest among these scams was the busting of two organised gangs by the crime branch that had duped two private banks of over Rs. 40 lakh by skimming cards. A management graduate and a courier agent were arrested in November for cheating several credit card holders through online transactions.

In the US, such crimes are quite common. A recent study conducted by research body Javelin Strategy & Research found that nearly 12 million Americans fell prey to credit/debit card frauds.

India too has been bitten by this bug. Says KK Vyas, deputy commissioner of police, EOW, "An increasing number of people are using plastic cards for monetary transactions and online shopping. Since fraudsters have become more advanced technologically, more people are falling prey to their schemes."

Even your cheques are not safe. A premier institute such as IIT-Delhi became victim of this crime in November 2011. Nearly Rs. 35 lakh were withdrawn from its accounts through forged cheques. The gang would scan original cheques and copy their details on blank ones before encashing them by forging signatures. The case was cracked and three were held.

Use of magic pens by conmen is also common. Recently, two ex-sales executives of a private bank were arrested for cheating customers by lending them their magic pens to fill in the cheque. The ink of these pens would evaporate over time and the executives would then fill their desired amount in the cheque and encash it.

Such white-collar crimes, says Vyas, aren't that difficult to pull off. The most common modus operandi a fraudster applies is cloning or skimming a card. This way, he obtains all the card details through a pager-sized scanner and copies them on to a counterfeit card.

"Phishing is the second most commonly used method through which these scammers steal sensitive information like usernames, passwords and credit card details with the help of fraudulent websites, or by email spoofing or alluring the card-holder with lucrative messages on his/her mobile phone," added Vyas.

What is skimming? | Dos and don’ts