A Romanian gang have been jailed for stealing the bank card details of more than 60,000 people using an array of sophisticated spying and skimming gadgets seized during a series of police raids at their homes.
The gang used hidden cameras and tampered with hole-in-the-wall machines to copy card details and pin numbers to steal more than £160,000 before they were caught.
They cloned the cards and transferred the money to Panama, Romania, Italy and Colombia using money transfer bureaus. Four members of the gang were given prison sentences of up to 64 months yesterday for the large-scaled, highly sophisticated and well-executed fraud.
The ring was broken up after the police raided homes in Harrow, north-west London, in December and seized what they described as a “fraudster’s utopia” of devices.
They included fake cash machine panels with hidden pin-hole cameras, cloned cards and money traps.
The money traps were fitted into ATM machines and prevented money from coming out when a customer tried to withdraw cash. When the customer finally lost patience and went away, the fraudster would remove the trap from inside the machine and collected the money. The gang also put devices into the cash machines which read the cards’ details. Using those details and recorded pictures of pin numbers being punched in, they were able to clone the cards and remove cash.
Many of the cloned cards recovered during the raids had the stolen PIN number written in black marker pen on the back for easy use by the criminals.
In all, 953 bank accounts had been compromised and a total of £161,607.47 was taken, although the potential loss was far greater, said prosecutor Catherine Pattison. Police said the potential loss for the 36,000 British customers whose cards were compromised was £16m based on the average loss of about £450 on every stolen card.
Florin Silaghi, 30, was described as the ringleader of the gang and received the longest sentence of more than five years yesterday. Two other men and a woman were also jailed. Recorder Douglas Day QC said: “Electronic card fraud is one of the scourges of the technological age nationally and internationally.”
The inquiry was carried out by the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU), a police team funded by the banking and card industry. It claims to have saved £450m since it was set up 12 years ago. Police said that the gang was different from most others in the variety of methods it used to steal card details.
Detective Inspector Sarah Ward, who led the investigation for the DCPCU, said: “The premises we raided really were a fraudster’s utopia, with a dizzying array of machines and gadgets.”
The cost of UK card fraud was estimated to be £450m in 2013, up 13 per cent in a year. However, security experts say the emphasis has shifted from credit cards to hacking social media accounts.