Chip and sin

PUBLISHED: 11:14 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 09:33 23 August 2010

Card crime feature   
Picture: Jamie Gray
Mobile:07834 965462

10.03.08 Gravesend Card crime feature Picture: Jamie Gray Mobile:07834 965462 Email:


This is Natwest. Please call your bank immediately.  It was a message on my mobile phone and instantly I thought the usual. Not enough money in my account. I ve gone over my overdraft limit. Again! writes Ed Riley.  I got through to customer service and

This is Natwest. Please call your bank immediately." It was a message on my mobile phone and instantly I thought the usual. Not enough money in my account. I've gone over my overdraft limit. Again! writes Ed Riley.

I got through to customer service and it was then I was hit with something far more serious.

"We need to check a few transactions with you Mr Riley. Have you tried to withdraw £160 from a bank in Trinidad and Tobago?"

It was then that I realised. Not for the first time, my bank card had been cloned.

I once thought it was the sort of thing that happened to other people, but this was the second time. I had previously fallen victim to card fraud almost a year ago, where £200 had been taken out of my account from two cash points in Indonesia.

As I told my friends I discovered that it seemed this kind of thing was far more common than I realised, and I heard various horror stories from people who had had their bank accounts cleaned out.

London and its surrounding towns are one of the card fraud hotspots in Britain. A survey carried out by online fraud prevention firm Early Warning showing the areas in Britain that were at a high risk of internet card fraud included south east London and the whole of the DA postcode area including Gravesend and Dartford.

The data was calculated by tracking the delivery addresses of fraudulently obtained goods, and showed that Thamesmead is a particularly high risk area, with whole streets involved in fraud. The report termed it: "The card fraud capital of Europe."

In another survey by CPP, a support service for victims of card fraud, 28 per cent of people who live in London have been a victim of the crime, the highest in Britain. It also showed that fraud levels increased by 26 per cent in the first six months of 2007 compared to the same period in 2006. Steve Booth, a fraud intelligence analyst at Kent Police based at the Serious Economic crime Unit in Maidstone, said: "Card fraud is carried out by organised and expert criminals, the majority of which start in London.

"This is where they begin their work, but then as they become larger and more advanced they tend to spread out, and that is why the surrounding areas of London, like north Kent, are becoming areas where we now see a lot of instances of card crime.

"It is a big issue. It can cover internet crime, when someone has given their card details online to an un-secure site, or bogus emails asking you for your card details. It also covers information gleaned from thrown away bank statements or people who are victims of machines that generate card numbers.

"It is such a widespread problem nowadays and there are sophisticated and organised gangs out there that are doing it."

Card fraud costs the UK millions. In 2006, fraud losses totalled £420 million, this was even after the introduction of chip and pin. But it seems the criminals are fighting back.

"One of the most common types of card fraud we see is skimming. It is the theft of electronic data on your card. There are two main ways they go about doing that. At ATM's and if you like the more traditional way often seen in garages or restaurants.

"What they do at ordinary cash points is they will put a reader over the card slot of an ATM. It is easy to do and costs about £2000, not much considering the returns they get from it.

"When you go and put your card in the slot, this reader will copy your details, allow you to carry out your transaction and you'll walk off thinking no more of it.

"But all your details have been copied. They also install a pin hole camera above the keypad that records you entering your pin number. All they have to do is match up your card details with your pin number and they have access to your bank account."

A large majority of card fraud takes place at garages, targeted by criminals because of the high number of people that pay for petrol on their cards.

In 2006, Shell even suspended chip and pin because up to £1 million was siphoned from customers' accounts.

"There is no doubt that chip and pin has been fantastic in stopping traditional card fraud which accounted for about 50 to 60 per cent of the total losses. But skimming at garages, shops and restaurants has developed over the years. It used to be that one person would swipe your card before putting it through to pay for your goods. Now, it is much more technical. They can either corrupt a pin entry device and exchange it for one in the shop where they will also install a camera above the counter, again recording your details.

"The second way they do it, which is much more prevalent in the last year or so is that they will tap the line where your card data is sent, and intercept all the data being sent along it. It used to be the people in the garages that were involved, physically doing the skimming or responsible for putting in the machines, but we are getting to the stage where these devices are so sophisticated that the criminal gangs have experts trawling the country installing this equipment.

"We have come across circumstances in which people were being bribed as much as £30,000 for them to turn a blind eye to the equipment they install."

There are many innocent victims. Last year Edna Oborne, from Hawley, near Dartford, had several hundreds of pounds worth of money taken from her account in July. Money was being withdrawn from her account in Mauritius.

Alan Eaton of Bedonwell Road, Belvedere, had more than £4000 used on a new credit card, which he had only used for three transactions over the internet.

He said: "I do not trust chip and pin and I do not use ATM's. I know how easy it is for the details to be stolen.

"It's scary what can be done. I had money spent on mobile phones and petrol at £80 a time. They were also buying foreign currency as well.

"I try to be as careful as I could but still they did it. It is the hassle of it all. I got the money back but the hassle it has caused me must be about £100. All we have is cash or cards now, there are no options. We take Chip and Pin for granted. It is very easy to use, but we have to realise that there is a problem with this as well."

Card fraud is now very much a worldwide problem and organised gangs are operating out of as many as 80 countries.

Mr Booth added: "Criminals used to be able to compromise card details in this country and then take money out of the ATM's in this country.

"But banks have fought back. At least 90 per cent of these have a fall back system now. In the old days you could put the details on a Tesco Clubcard or a Nectar card and withdraw cash.

"But now the ATM will look for a specific chip in the card and if that is not there it won't let any money be taken out.

"What this has meant is the problem has just become far more widespread. Card details are exported to other countries where the ATMs don't have this chip scanning technology. We can't enforce every country in the world to have a chip and pin system."

Five years ago the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU) was set up to deal with card fraud. Funded by APACS, the UK payments association, it is made up of investigators from the Met and the City of London Police.

Mr Booth said: "We work closely with a number of organisations, including the DCPCU to fight card crime. But there are also some basic safety precautions you can take to stop yourself becoming another victim.

"When it comes to skimming, they normally have to have a camera in place to capture the pin number. If you do a simple thing like cover the pin pad with your other hand, you break that signal. When they look back at the tape there will be so many other people who haven't done this they will just ignore you.

"Also familiarity. Go to places you use regularly. You will notice if something has changed, and if it has, don't use it, report it to the police.

"If you notice a problem with an ATM go the bank and report it. Don't try and take it off. Many criminals who install these skimming devices are waiting nearby. Kent Police have dealt with a large number of incidents where people have taken these devices off the machine and have been attacked and badly injured.

"And lastly, the most obvious one, never give your card details out to anyone suspicious."

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Gravesend Reporter. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter