Mumbai crime: This Bandra ATM is a theft trap

Sep 20, 2015, 07:15 IST | Sailee Dhayalkar

20 complaints of card cloning received from same Hill Road ATM in one month. Six Bandra residents lose nearly Rs 2 lakh between them. Bank authorities assure cooperation, promise to return money

How safe is it to withdraw money from your account from an ATM? The following story may make you abandon plastic money forever, and head for that cheque book.

Bandra resident Kimberly Fernandes had used the ATM early September; she lost Rs 38,700 on September 16. pic/pradeep dhivar
Bandra resident Kimberly Fernandes had used the ATM (below) early September; she lost Rs 38,700 on September 16. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Since the beginning of this month alone, 20 complaints have been received at Bandra Police Station on Hill Road, from residents complaining that money has been withdrawn from their accounts fraudulently. And, between six of these complainants, the amount stolen amounts to nearly 1.5 lakh. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Shock at dinner time
Olivia Taites, 27, who lives in Bandra West and is currently studying for a B.Ed degree, says she was having dinner at home on Monday night when she received an SMS alert informing her that Rs 10,000 had been withdrawn from her account from an ATM in Sakinaka, Andheri East. Puzzled, she informed her husband. However, within a few minutes, she received another text message that Rs 10,000 had been withdrawn again.


“She immediately called the bank where she holds an account, to block the card. However, even as she was talking to them, she got two other messages. In total, Rs 40,000 had been withdrawn, leaving a balance of just R800,” says her businessman husband Adrian, 27.

When the couple went to Bandra Police Station, where they wrote and submitted an application under police instructions, they met another victim of a debit card fraud. “This person had lost Rs 50,000. I immediately mentioned the incident on a social networking site. After that I was told that there were four others from Bandra who had, in just this month, had a similar experience. A friend's mother had Rs 50,000 stolen from her account,” says Adrian.

Olivia Taites, 27  R40,000 was withdrawn from her account. Visited Hill Road ATM on September 1
Olivia Taites, 27 Rs 40,000 was withdrawn from her account. Visited Hill Road ATM on September 1

Among the other victims he heard of, is 31-year-old Kimberley Fernandes, who works with a travel agency. She says she received two messages on September 16 and a total of Rs 18,700 had been withdrawn from her account from an ATM at Andheri. A call to the bank to block the card revealed that the total amount withdrawn was actually Rs 38,700, leaving a balance of Rs 156. She immediately approached Bandra police station with an application.


Bank to blame
When Adrian spoke to Fernandes, and other four victims he heard of from Bandra, they realised that what was common in their cases was that all of them had, in September, used the ATM of the Union Bank of India at Hill Road — Taites on September 1 and Fernandes in the first week of September.

The third victim, who is a 25-year-old graphic designer but doesn’t want to be identified for the story, lost Rs 25,000 from his account on Friday night. Like the rest, he says, he used the Hill Road ATM in the first week of September.

An official from the Hill Road branch of Union Bank of India, to which the ATM is attached, refused to be identified for the story but said, “We have received over 25 complaints and are expecting more. For now, we have provided the CCTV footage from September to the police and that should reveal how the accused executed their plan. We are also giving the police a list of people who have withdrawn money from this ATM this month. We are co-operating with the investigators. The bank is also assuring those who have lost their money that they will get their money back soon.”

However, this isn’t the first time that card cloning has affected those who have used this bank’s ATM. In April this year, mid-day had reported that nearly 30 people had had money stolen from their accounts when thieves cloned their cards after placing cameras at a Union Bank of India ATM in Parel.

Stay alert, warns expert
Sahir Hidayadullah, a cyber security expert, told sunday mid-day that if after inserting the card, the ATM machine hangs or the card gets stuck, don’t leave the ATM. “Instead, inform the ATM security and call the bank to which the ATM belongs immediately,” he says, adding that make it a point to cover your hand while typing out the PIN number.

When this paper contacted a senior official from Bandra police station, he said, “We haven’t registered an FIR. The money has been withdrawn by the accused from various other ATMs in Mumbai, not one particular one. We are investigating the case with the help of the cyber crime team.”

Usually, in such cases, the police ask the victims to file an application. They then conduct a preliminary inquiry. If the case is confirmed, an FIR is registered.

The Bandra police on Saturday saw the CCTV footage from the bank which showed a man who looked like he was trying to put a magnetic strip in the card slot. The police refused to divulge any further details.

Rs 40k
Amount B.Ed aspirant Olivia Taites lost on Sept 14

Rs 25k
Amount a Bandra-based graphic designer lost on Sept 18

How your card is cloned

Data thieves use card skimmers to clone ATM cards. These are magnetic strips which are fixed inside the card slot and can record account numbers. They then put a thin, invisible key pad over the ATM’s number panel so that what you enter gets recorded. Once they have the details, they print them on a blank card and use the cloned card to withdraw money or make other transactions.

Sticky glue is also used, say experts. The criminals place it in the ‘enter’ button, which prevents ATM users from completing their transaction. When the users leave the ATM frustrated, the criminal enters, removes the glue and completes the transaction.

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