British tourists hit by £150m credit card scam
The gangs use a network of crooked waiters or shop assistants to ‘clone’ the cards in a worldwide scam that could rake in up to £150million this year.
The gangs – many backed by some of Europe’s largest crime syndicates – home in on British customers because their credit cards have yet to be converted to new chip-based technology. Instead, the cards store data on an old-fashioned magnetic stripe which is vulnerable to fraud.
Using a small black box the size of a cigarette packet, the waiters or shop staff ‘skim’ credit cards to make a copy of their magnetic details and clone new cards.
The cloned cards can also be copied several times.
The massive proceeds are used to fund rackets that include drug smuggling and pornography.
Users of the cloned cards often embark on spending sprees across the world.
Police joined credit card bosses yesterday in warning tourists never to let their cards out of their sight. Detectives and the banking industry estimate that £300mil-lion was lost by UK cardholders last year. A third of that figure was due to cloning. It could be 50 per cent higher this year. In France, domestic credit card fraud has been virtually eliminated thanks to the use of PIN numbers – a system yet to be introduced in Britain.
In future, a dedicated computer chip will be inserted into each card to make it unique. Customers will then be asked to type in their PIN number instead of signing the bill. A senior detective said last night: ‘In France, British cards stand out like a sore thumb and are seized upon because they are so easy to copy.
‘But because French citizens do not tend to suffer from card fraud, French credit card fraud squads are non-existent.’
Interpol are already hunting one ‘waiter’ for cloning hundreds of cards in London.
He worked in a top restaurant in the capital and charged clients £30 for each number he skimmed during a shift. He is now thought to be in France. Within hours of a waiter or shop assistant ‘skimming’ a credit card, the resulting fakes can be in the possession of someone who then embarks on a spending spree. By the time a customer receives their monthly bill, the cloned card could have been used to run up a bill of several thousand pounds.
One credit card customer whose number was used to buy goods worth a total of £6,000 in Florida said he was ‘in total ignorance’ until his monthly statement arrived. The money spent fraudulently is normally refunded to customers but is inevitably clawed back by the banks through higher interest charges for genuine purchases.
Last night one fraud expert claimed that the money made from skimming cards was now funding organised crime in Europe.
‘There is no doubt that this is a growth area for gangsters,’ he said.
‘What started as an opportunistic crime which only happened when someone had their bag snatched or wallet pinched has turned into big business.
‘These profits are now being siphoned off to fund drugs and pornography rackets.
‘Because of the delay in introducing new technology for British cardholders, they remain at risk whenever they pay for something abroad.’
In February this year, in a rare ‘skimming’ prosecution, two Russians were jailed for a fraud thought to have netted a staggering £4.5million. Earlier this year the Home Office announced plans to set up a National Credit Card Fraud Squad. Visa International believes that the main hot spots for card cloning are Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. Some retail outlets have even had their credit card terminals removed because of fraudulent payments.
A retail park in Birmingham is testing a system whereby customers are asked to place a fingerprint on the back of their cheque or credit card slip. Around 80 per cent of fraud-sters already have criminal records, making it relatively simple for police to identify a suspect – and providing a major deterrent. Organisers hope it will provide a cheap but effective stop-gap measure for shops until the PIN number system is introduced to Britain in around three years’ time.
Source: BEN TAYLOR, Daily Mail