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April 02, 2020

Avoid Becoming Victims of ATM Scammers

The news of the arrests of five foreigners, who stole cash from six banks for 58 times, using 35 fake automatic teller machine (ATM) cards, which appeared in the 23 December issue of GNLM, prompted me to write this article. For me this is the first time I had ever heard of such crimes being committed in Myanmar. There may be, but I may have missed them. However, these sorts of crimes, involving large amounts of money had been going on in other countries, since very long time ago. I had noticed, they were committed by foreigners in most cases. The scammers were almost always from countries that are advanced in electronic and computer technologies. They traveled to different destinations, mostly in developing countries, in search of easy preys. Their simplest technique is to pose as tourists and hangout around shopping malls, entertainment complexes, banks and other busy public places on the lookout for their targets. When someone approached an ATM machine to draw money they will observe, from close range, what numbers that person entered as pass code. They may be able to see distinctly or sometimes they had to guess by the movements of the hand and make fake ATM cards with those numbers. They have two chances to try out the uncertain pass codes, that had to be guessed from the hand movements, before the ATM card is held back by the machine on the third wrong entry. Which, the issuing bank will only return it after thorough identification of the claimant. However, the scammers won’t dare to reclaim as they are fakes. I had seen some cautious persons, in other countries, when drawing money from the ATM machines would survey the surrounding before approaching it and while entering the pass code they blocked the view of the keyboard by their bodies so that it would not be visible to others. It’s best not to trust anyone who approached you while you are drawing cash from the ATM. This is not paranoia, but to safeguard your life’s savings, from being stolen. Luckily in Myanmar, ATM cards are not linked with the saving accounts, but have to apply for a separate account that does not give interest on the cash deposited in them, so not many people are interested in using ATMs. In other words, the ATM culture had not caught up with the Myanmar public yet. Also as the ATM accounts are separate, and separate deposits had to be made, nobody will put all his money into that account. So the Myanmar ATM cards are unattractive to the scammers, thus sparing them from being hacked and scammed. Who would risk being arrested by scamming the ATMs that won’t yield much cash. Naturally they went after the foreign ATMs.
For the benefit the readers, who are not familiar with the use of ATMs, I will briefly explain the procedures used in our country and in most other countries, so that they will understand my statement about the losses that are incurred due to scamming. In Thailand for instance, if you open a saving account and deposit some cash, notwithstanding the amount, you will be provided with a bank pass book to draw money direct from the teller at the bank, and also an ATM card with which you can draw cash from any ATM machine belonging to any bank. Whereas in our country ATM is not linked to the saving account and had to make a separate deposit, thus they cannot be of much amount because the ATM deposits do not get bank interests. Thus they are not attractive to the scammers and that fact must have spared the people using the local ATM cards from being scammed, because the scammers must have done their homework thoroughly and found that they could not produce much cash. Whereas the foreign banks’ ATMs served dual purposes, they can be used as credit cards too, so they must be more attractive to the scammers. That was a blessing in disguise for not being an advanced country.
The spying on the ATM users to get their pass codes for making fake ATM cards, using computer is the simplest method of scamming. Some foreign scamming gangs are using more and more sophisticated means based on electronic and computer technologies. One of them is to place an electronic gadget inside the ATM secretly and that gadget will read or sense the numbers entered and transmits them to the control computer, thus enabling them to make fake cards. This method affords them to obtain the information they need without exposing themselves, as in loitering around and spying. They had to take the risk only once, that is while placing the spying devices in position. By the term information, I meant every data on the card, including the amount of balance in the account and the pass codes. In some cases, tiny spy cameras are placed concealed from views of even the sharp-eyed individuals, let alone a casual observer, in the vicinity of the ATM machines to record the numbers punched into the machines by the users. There can be many more ways and means but I am sure, by now, the readers will have gained some ideas as to how the ATM scamming is done.
Myanmar is the latest target of the scammers and we should be wary of more scamming, because these crooks target the countries that are not well advanced and not yet familiar with such acts of stealing, so people are not aware that they are vulnerable to scamming. That made them easy preys. The news of the arrests of the five scammers may somewhat deter other would-be scammers, but I doubt they will shy away entirely. I had witnessed the continuing acts of scamming recurrently in the neighboring countries though there were frequent arrests.
To avoid being scammed, the followings are some precautions to be taken, which I had observed and learned from my frequent visits abroad:-
1. If possible don’t use ATMs, as there are many bank branches today.
2. If you must use it, unavoidably, take precautions so as not to be spied upon.
3. Never trust anyone who approached you while you are drawing money from the ATM.
4. Make close observations of the ATM machines for any telltale signs of foreign objects, not usually found on such machines.
5. Watch out for tiny spy camera in the vicinity of the ATMs.
6. Change your pass code as often as possible to make it safe from scammers, especially when you suspect that the machine you just used, had been rigged with spying devices.
7. Be acquainted with the latest methods of scamming by keeping yourself informed through reading and watching foreign media.
I hope by now, the readers who had no idea of the ATM scamming before, know how to avoid from being scammed. My sole intention of writing this article is to share my experiences in such matter, so that people can take precautions against scamming.
Looking forward to a scam free ATM system.

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