Hackers' ATM Trick Results in Record-Breaking Heist

Dennis Faas's picture

Eight men have been accused of using bogus bank cards to empty ATMs worldwide. In one single-day attack, the gang allegedly took $40 million.

The crimes were kept quiet while investigators hunted down those believed responsible. Only seven men will stand trial, with the other having been shot by unknown attackers in the Dominican Republic. He's thought to have masterminded the operation.

And the hunt isn't complete: prosecutors believe a total of two dozen people were involved in the highly sophisticated operation.

Prepaid Cards Key to Heist

It appears the first step was for hackers to gain access to the systems of those companies that process prepaid Visa and Mastercard debit cards.

Normally, users can only withdraw a prepaid balance on such cards, as they have no overdraft or credit facility. However, the hackers then adjusted system records to raise or even remove these withdrawal limits.

The gang then passed on the card details to colleagues in 20 different countries. Next, they created bogus cards and began emptying ATMs. Because the scam used prepaid cards, it took longer for cardholders to notice anything was amiss.

The thefts came in two separate operations: one last December used cards issued in the United Arab Emirates and led to the theft of around $5 million.

That seems to have been a test run. The gang then pulled off the same trick in February using cards issued in Oman.

Biggest NYC Bank Theft Since 1978

This time the thieves took around $40 million inside of ten hours. In New York City alone a group withdrew $2.4 million, which appears to be more than any heist in the city in the past 35 years.

Japan's ATMs were hit hardest because they have higher limits on withdrawals from a single machine: up to $10,000 in some cases. In total, the gang there walked away with around $10 million.

US investigators were able to track down suspects in New York through security camera footage. They noted that one of the accused men was carrying a backpack that became larger every time he visited a new bank.

Bank officials haven't yet announced if customers will lose any funds. However, the fact that the criminals were able to withdraw more than the prepaid balance should be enough to show the customer was not responsible.

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