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Scam alert! Worry over flood of 'scanning devices'

Published:Sunday | November 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Superintendent Fitz Bailey
Danville Walker

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

HEAD OF the Organised Crime Investigation Division (OCID), Superintendent Fitz Bailey, has raised concerns about the absence of a regulatory framework to prevent unscrupulous persons from importing equipment used in the local multimillion-dollar debit-card scam.

Bailey, whose agency has been fiercely battling the emerging cybercrime scheme in Jamaica, wants swift action from the authorities to make it more difficult for someone who is not a legitimate businessperson to import equipment that can scan debit cards.

Million-dollar scheme

Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker has admitted that there is no restriction in place at this time to prevent the wholesale importation of debit card skimming machines, which are increasingly being used by players in the burgeoning cybercriminal network to fleece unsuspecting cardholders of millions of dollars.

However, Walker told The Sunday Gleaner that if these machines were placed on a restricted list of items that can be imported, the Customs Department would have responsibility for policing the importation of these pieces of equipment.

"I will get a brief together for the minister so that he can put it on the restricted list," Walker assured The Sunday Gleaner.

Last year, Jamaicans carried out transactions at automated teller machines (ATMs) totalling $209.6 billion. In December 2009, debit cardholders transacted business at ATMs totalling $16.6 billion in local currency, and US$3.2 million.

While there was no available data to indicate the number of debit card skimming machines and other accessories being imported into the country, a reliable source told The Sunday Gleaner that equipment used in the debit-card scam was being imported in significant numbers.

"Anybody can order these devices and import them into the country," Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner.

The head of the OCID also pointed out that accessories used in the debit-card scam, including miniature cameras, could be accessed at any electronic store locally.

The Sunday Gleaner has also been reliably informed that cybercriminals also work with cohorts in legitimate business establishments to extract data from money cards in their devious quest to defraud debit cardholders of their money.

Michael Gordon, chairman of the Jamaica Bankers' Association's anti-fraud committee, told The Gleaner in a September interview that certain persons in establishments were being paid up to $10,000 in some instances for providing information on debit cards.

Using small hand-held devices, persons at entities, not disclosed to The Sunday Gleaner, reportedly swipe data from debit cards and then hand the portable machine to cardowners while observing the PINs being keyed in by the user.

With the stolen data, scammers can produce counterfeit ATM cards and use them, along with the PIN numbers, to withdraw money from accounts.

Just last week, the OCID charged a significant player in the debit-card scam.

Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner that 47-year-old Kirk Powell of a Queens Drive, Montego Bay, address was slapped with conspiracy charges in relation to the scam.

Special initiative

The OCID head said Powell allegedly conducted his operations in various sections of the island.

According to Bailey, the police have identified a number of persons who had been scammed by this alleged mastermind.

Two other persons were picked up in the Corporate Area and will be charged soon, Bailey reported.

He said a special initiative was being forged between the OCID and financial institutions to smash the cybercrime scheme. The senior cop said a task force comprising the police and members of the banking sector was being formed.

In August, the police cracked a major criminal network in Manchester after two men were found with electronic devices which were used to intercept transactions and duplicate the PINs and other information from customers using the ATM. The men were charged under the Cybercrimes Act.