Four Romanians held over HK$1 million ATM scam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 October, 2013, 4:24am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 October, 2013, 4:24am
Clifford Lo clifford.lo@scmp.com



Four Romanians have been arrested on suspicion of withdrawing more than HK$1 million within a week from automated teller machines using gift cards encoded with data stolen from overseas bank accounts, said police.



It was the second round of arrests for the crime in recent months, after three Romanians were nabbed in May with bogus payment cards. Police said the number of fake cards seized rose 410 per cent in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period last year.

The four men, aged from 27 to 45, arrived from Britain and Hungary and had been in Hong Kong for less than a week. They had been due to leave next month.

Police believed they were part of a "cashing crew" - which target ATMs - from a global fraud syndicate. Asked why the gang chose Hong Kong, Chief Inspector Tang Wai-ying of the Commercial Crime Bureau said: "They probably made use of the time difference to delay the owners of the stolen card data from discovering abnormal transactions."

The data was believed to have come from compromised accounts in Europe and Australia, said Superintendent Paul Renouf of the bureau.

Police picked up two of the four men as they tried to take money from an ATM on Queen's Road Central at about 9pm on Tuesday. The other two were arrested at about 2am yesterday in one of two Sheung Wan hotels raided by police.

Bureau officers recovered HK$1 million in cash, believed to be crime proceeds, from the suspects and three hotel rooms. The gang was understood to have remitted HK$23,000 overseas.

Police found about 270 fake payment cards bearing magnetic strips encoded with stolen data. Two laptop computers and two encoding machines were seized.

Renouf believed the gang encoded the cards with the stolen data using the encoding machines in their rooms before hitting ATMs in the city.

Between January and September, officers seized 2,575 fake payment cards, up from 505 a year ago. Police attributed the sharp rise to two operations - in May and last month - in which officers seized more than 2,100 fake cards.

Police began investigating the latest case after receiving complaints from local banks on Monday. The four suspects were arrested for conspiracy to steal and were being held for questioning last night. No charges had yet been laid.

In May, three Romanian men were arrested for withdrawing more than HK$1.5 million with fake payment cards in Tsim Sha Tsui. Officers are investigating whether the two cases are linked.