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Authorities Disrupt ATM Skimming Operation

Authorities successfully disrupted a large-scale ATM skimming operation as part of a collaboration with Italian law enforcement, Europol announced Thursday.

Authorities successfully disrupted a large-scale ATM skimming operation as part of a collaboration with Italian law enforcement, Europol announced Thursday.

The international criminal group responsible for the operation was composed mainly of Romanian nationals, but their activities spawned across the continent. According to the European law enforcement agency, the group was also engaged into forgery of documents and money laundering.

The criminal network used a series of sophisticated ATM skimming devices that allowed them to compromise ATMs across Europe, Europol said. By targeting ATMs (or automatic teller machines), criminals were able to copy and store magnetic strip card data and confidential PIN codes to use in fraudulent operations.

Authorities estimate that the group’s activities might have resulted in losses of over EUR 1.2 million ( approximately $1.35 million).

Following an operation that involved multiple house searches, Europol and the Italian Carabinieri arrested 16 individuals in Italy. Authorities also seized a variety of sophisticated equipment, including micro camera bars, card readers, magnetic strip readers and writers, computers, phones and flash drives, as well as plastic cards ready to be encoded.

The group operated by harvesting financial data from ATMs in various European Union Member States (Italy, Denmark and the UK), and used the information to create fake payment cards. Next, the criminals used these fake cards to withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs in countries outside the EU, such as Indonesia and Belize.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) initiated the case in 2014 and provided help to the law enforcement authorities to identify the suspects. EC3 offered analytical and forensic support throughout the operation, while Europol’s information and analysis systems were used to exchange and cross-check intelligence.

“Organized criminal groups are always looking for new global opportunities to make money, especially in the criminal market of payment fraud. Operations such as this highlight the importance of using Europol’s secure tools for exchanging intelligence and for coordinating the crucial operational stages involved in complex international cases. The resounding success of such an operation is not the first nor will it be the last, as police officers and prosecutors, alongside EC3, continue in their tireless endeavors to make payment transactions safer for customers throughout Europe and beyond,” Steven Wilson, Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), said.

Users are advised to check their banking transactions regularly to reduce the risk of becoming victims to ATM skimming. They are also advised to immediately inform their bank of anything suspicious, including transactions that haven’t been debited from the account after the card was used.

ATM skimming has been a problem in Europe and the United States for years, as criminals find new ways of engaging into such fraudulent operations, including mini-skimmers. One of the counter-measures that authorities are considering is the use of a smartphone-based system, which could replace the current card-based systems.

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