By Simon Masaba
Using techniques that are straight out of Hollywood action movies, ATM fraudsters are using high-end techniques to rob Ugandans of hard-earned cash, Police has revealed.
The International Police (Interpol), has joined the hunt for hundreds of these fraudsters suspected to have infiltrated the African continent since the start of the year.
Sources say the search has been narrowed to 60 Bulgarian nationals who came as investors and expatriates working for Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) across Africa.
In February this year, Police arrested Adrian Dimitrov, one of the suspects. He was charged with stealing money from ATMs from various banks. His accomplice, Fillip Aradzhien, was also charged.
The Police also nabbed seven other people believed to be part of a racket. The suspects denied the charges and were granted bail until March 9 when their case was set to appear for mention.
The two who were residents of Najjera near Kampala, were accused of stealing over sh30m from various bank ATMs around Kampala. They were found in possession of a skimming device.
According to police, the same suspects had been arrested in Kenya and but were released after they paid a fine sh22m. They then fled into Uganda.
The Police say some of the Bulgarians who escaped from Kenya were among the four suspects arrested after a foiled robbery at an ATM in Nateete, Kampala on Thursday last week. Those arrested in Natete were Milen Katsarki, Adrian Dimitrov, Ivan Ganchey and Anton Ivinov, all holding Bulgarian passports.
The Police suspect that other ATM thieves of eastern Europe origin are still at large across the country, mainly in Gulu and Lira districts.
According to Police, the thieves install a magnetic device and a tiny camera at the ATM, sometimes in connivance with bank workers. The magnetic device electronically captures the information on your ATM card, which they use to make a duplicate card. The camera records your PIN as you key it in.
This information is used to duplicate the card. The money is then changed to foreign currency and wired to their personal accounts in Bulgaria.
However, Stanbic Bank, where the thieves were attempting to steal from, has assured the public that no customer will lose money in the bank as a result of ATM thieves.
The bank’s Public Relations Officer, Daniel Nsibambi, said they have sufficient mechanisms to protect customers’ deposits. “The client’s money is always safe even if the bank has been hit, the bank always has documents to verify and at all times your money will be with the bank.”
Early this week, the bank published tips on how to beat the fraudsters.
Floris Kwizera, a software engineer, explained that a PIN number acts as a password. So for someone to access money, they first have to get it.”
He advises bank customers to shield the screen with one hand as they key in their PIN numbers. He also advises that PINs be changed regularly.
Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Ibin Senkumbi told the Sunday Vision that the suspects have no work permits, and have been frequenting Uganda from Kenya.
A police search of the suspects’ residence in Naalya led to the recovery of gadgets reportedly used in the fabrication of ATM cards. On Monday last week, police displayed equipment recovered from the suspects, believed to be used in ATM thefts. The equipment included an assortment of screw drivers, laptops, soldering wire, card reader, glue and a tool box.
Senkumbi said some of the equipment is unknown to police and will be subjected to identification by experts. So far, a banker has helped the Police to identify a machine used in testing ATMs and printing identifications. According to police, the thieves target people with large sums of money on their account. Senkumbi advises the public to be vigilant.
8 Ways to protect your card and pin
1. Monitor your account balance
2. Do not give your PIN to anyone because you do not know where it will end up
3. Never keep your PIN and ATM card in the same wallet or pocket
4. Shield your hand with another hand, piece of paper or book when entering your PIN on the machine so that any installed camera cannot capture it
5. Change your PIN number on a monthly basis or whenever ATM scandals arise
6. Ensure card slots are set within the body of the ATM machine and not protruding above it.
7. If you see any strange gadget installed do not insert your ATM card. Inform security immediately.
8. Avoid so-called good Samaritans who are quick to offer assistance whenever you have difficulties with the ATM