Drunk patrons are easy targets. Illustration/ Uday Mohite

Here's why you should not let your debit card out of sight after handing it over to a steward at a restaurant or bar. This week, the Bandra police busted three members of a gang of identity thieves who worked at restobars and dance bars, cloned customers' debit/credit cards and stole money.

The trio used skimming (cloning) devices to collect data from the magnetic strip of the cards of two customers. The information, copied onto another blank card's magnetic strip, was then used to withdraw cash through ATMs.

The police suspect that the gang, which had been defrauding people for a year, involves many more scammers. They said the mastermind has been identified but is yet to be traced. The gang's modus operandi was simple: zero in on a customer who wished to settle his/her bill with a debit/credit card, ask for the PIN and memorise it. Then, swipe the card on a tampered device with an attached skimmer. The skimmer was then passed onto an accomplice who copied the card's confidential information onto a dummy card. The card and PIN were then used to withdraw money from ATMs, said the police.

The gang was busted after the police received a complaint from a prominent private bank on May 21, alleging that a customer had complained to them of a fraudulent transaction of R22,000 through a Bandra West ATM. The bank authorities raised the suspicion that the customer's debit card had been cloned. The police registered an FIR and launched an investigation.

All bar staff
A source said the police found that an ATM on Carter Road in Bandra West had been used to transact the fraud. Based on the date and timing of the transaction, they recovered its CCTV camera footage and zeroed in on a suspect who worked as a waiter at a bar in Santacruz. "The police kept a close watch on the suspect, and detained him on Monday. During his questioning, he revealed the name of another accomplice."

The police managed to track down a third gang member too.

The arrested trio -- Rizwan Sayad, Ifzat Ali and Vikas Shivanand -- worked as wait staff at bars and dance bars. They were produced in court yesterday and remanded in police custody till June 27.

Cop speak
A Bandra police official said they had been trying to crack the case for a month. "We have learnt about another victim who was cheated in a similar manner." Police sources said the gang is suspected to have ensnared many more people.

Another police official said a probe is on to ascertain the total number of victims. "We are checking if similar complaints have been registered in other police stations."