European police break credit card “skimming” gang

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European police have arrested 61 people after breaking up a gang involved in “skimming” bank and credit cards, said the police agency Europol.

Skimmers use an illegal electronic device that allows data from the magnetic strip of consumers’ payment cards to be copied. With this data, criminals can steal money from an individual’s bank account.

Europol said the 61, mostly Bulgarians, were arrested in “Operation Night Clone”, an international sweep that involved police forces in Bulgaria, Italy and other countries. It said more arrests were likely, Reuters reports.
“One of the most significant criminal groups active in this field has been taken out of business,” Rob Wainwright, Europol director, said in a statement. This “skimming” fraud cost banks in Europe about 50 million euros.

The gang, based in Bulgaria, was linked to criminal cells in Kenya, South Africa and the United States, and had recruited and trained petty criminals to make illegal cash withdrawals, Europol said.

The gang used 15,000 credit cards fraudulently in the United States, Marcin Skowronek, a policeman involved in the investigation, told Reuters.

Most of the credit card information had been skimmed at ATMs, or automated teller machines, in Europe.
“The technology is very advanced, it’s very hard to prevent it. And it’s more and more difficult to detect the skimming equipment at an ATM,” said Skowronek.

Pressure is mounting in Europe for banks to issue cards with a chip — which cannot be copied — rather than with a magnetic strip, he added. The European Union is considered the world’s largest market for payment card transactions.

Banks usually end up footing “skimming” losses, estimated at more than 1.5 billion euros ($2.10 billion) in 2009.