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Plastic money brings real trouble

It’s a small 3.5x2 inch piece of plastic, but it packs a punch. Especially when it gets lost or is stolen and misused. These days, however, criminals do not need to steal your card, all they need is the information on it in order to cheat shops and malls of lakhs. Puja Changoiwala reports.

mumbai Updated: May 14, 2012 01:30 IST
Puja Changoiwala
Puja Changoiwala
Hindustan Times

It’s a small 3.5x2 inch piece of plastic, but it packs a punch. Especially when it gets lost or is stolen and misused. These days, however, criminals do not need to steal your card, all they need is the information on it in order to cheat shops and malls of lakhs.

Blame it on the advancement of technology or the rising intelligence quotients of offenders, organised criminals have now acquired the technology that allows them to ‘skim’ the data contained on the magnetic strips of credit cards, manufacture fake cards, and even crack protective features such as holograms.

Experts say the maximum number of frauds reported is now the result of the silicon-based magnetic strip reader, a skimming machine.

On May 8, a major fake credit card fraud was unearthed when the Kasturba Marg police arrested two persons for allegedly cheating a Metro Cash and Carry mall in Borivli of Rs 5.08 lakh. The main accused in the case, Hukumsingh Rao, who is still at large, has more than 42 such cases registered against him.

“Rao had been making money through credit card scams for a decade. With the proceeds of these criminal activities, he has bought himself several properties, including three flats in Mira Road and an ice cream factory in Rajasthan,” said Pradip Raorane, assistant inspector of police at Kasturba Marg police station. The police said Rao would buy the magnetic strip data (exclusive for every user) of international credit card users from Nigerian touts, emboss the data on videotape reels, stick the embossed bit on other cards and misuse them thereafter. The Nigerian touts, the police said, would avail the data by liaisoning with locals in countries abroad who would skim the data of foreign users.

In early May, the Ulhasnagar crime branch arrested two people and recovered 597 duplicate credit and debit cards from them. Machindra Chavan, senior inspector of Ulhasnagar crime branch, said to forge credit cards, the accused used to buy the magnetic strip data from Nigerian touts.

Apart from fitting skimmer machines into card slots of ATM machines that would record details, the accused would fit spy cameras at ATM centres that would record the PIN number of the user.

“During interrogation, the accused named someone called Raza. We raided his Ulhasnagar residence and recovered an embossing machine, scanner, printer, two laptops, two sets of ATM card readers and writer,” Chavan said.

An official from the cyber crime unit said, “Cyber criminals usually hack into websites that are not secure. Card details of those who have shopped on that website then become accessible to criminals. The accused then misuse these details.”

Experts suggest that a lot of credit and debit card frauds could be prevented if users are more vigilant. “Banks have given guidelines stating that users should memorise their card verification value (CVV) number and then conceal it either by pasting a black sticker on it or running a black marker on it. But only three out of ten customers follow this instruction,” said Vicky Shah, a cyber expert.

Besides, said Shah, very few people sign on their cards as per guidelines.

“If a user signs on his card it becomes tougher to misuse it,” he said.

Grill session

People should be very careful while using cards

Why are credit and debit card frauds happening so frequently?
I think credit/debit card frauds have been declining in the past few years. Phishing, Nigerian frauds, impersonations, morphing are on the rise. Greater awareness among people has helped bring a reduction in credit/debit card frauds.

What precautions should users take in order to prevent such frauds?
If a user hands out his card over the counter at say, a restaurant, the employee might skim the card and avail all details of the card and misuse it. Apart from shop owners taking preventive action and ensuring greater security for customers, people should be extremely careful while parting with their cards. The police, too, have several awareness campaigns to create more awareness on the issue.

Are the police planning an upgradation in the available technology or increasing manpower available with the cyber crime unit to be better able to tackle such crimes?
I believe that we have the required technology and manpower to deal with the current inflow of such complaints. However, I think constant upgradation is a necessity in this realm in order to keep pace with the hackers who are getting smarter by the day. We do have plans and proposals for future upgradations.

Case studies

‘I lost my card and found my entire savings wiped out’

Pravin Vaishnav, 27, Salesperson

Having saved Rs 70,000 over six months to get his ailing mother treated, Vaishnav was shocked to learn that he had lost the money to a fraudster. A resident of Bhayander, Vaishnav had made a trip in January-end this year to his hometown, Rani in Rajasthan, to visit his mother.

When he went to a local ATM centre there to withdraw some cash, he realised that he did not have his debit card.

For that moment, Vaishnav assumed he must have forgotten the card at his Mumbai residence. When he arrived in the city, however, he couldn’t find the card anywhere.

“When I approached the bank, I learnt that someone had made 14 withdrawals from my card between January 7 and January 29. Only Rs 9 remained in my account,” he said.

When Vaishnav sought the help of the bank authorities, they turned him down, he said. “They said their job was only to provide the card and that I was responsible for taking care of it. And now that I have lost it, they could not do much about it as it was my fault.”

A dejected Vaishnav then approached the LT Marg police station to file a complaint.

“I filed a complaint on February 5 this year, yet there is no clue about the offender. It is clear that the offender knew my personal details as I had stopped receiving withdrawal notification SMSes despite the accused making withdrawals. But, the police have not done anything about my complaint yet,” he said.

(As told to Puja Changoiwala)

‘My credit card was skimmed and Rs 35,000 spent’

Sameer Dayani, 42, businessman

Dayani, a Vile Parle businessman, was shocked to find that the service on his cell phone was disabled one evening around two years ago. Thinking it to be a network issue, he called his service provider who told him that they had received a complaint saying that his phone had been stolen and that they should block his card.

“It was vague. To block your SIM card, you need to give the service provider your identification details. I did not know what had happened, I just knew that the person knew me well,” he said.

After four days, Dayani began receiving notifications on his cell phone about transactions being made through his credit card. The unknown person was shopping for clothes and petrol among other things. The person had exhausted the limit of Rs 35,000 available on the card.

“I contacted the fraud control department of my bank and told them that I was planning to approach the police or the consumer court when they said that they would sort the matter for me. After investigating the case, they credited the amount back,” he said.

Dayani said he still does not know much about the offender. “During the transactions, he signed under the name ‘Jamil Shaikh.’ I was told that he had skimmed my card. That is all I know.”

(As told to Puja Changoiwala)

First Published: May 14, 2012 01:23 IST