Foreigners in Nepal ATM frauds

After an alarming rise in ATM fraud in America and Europe in recent years, Romanian skimming gangs are found to be active in Nepal of late, prompting bank operators, law enforcement agencies and consumers to take immediate precautions to avert possible risk.      
With the repeated outbreak of ATM skimmings in the country, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police has strongly urged ATM users to change their pin codes as one of the precautions. Some 3.5 million ATM cards are in use in Nepal
Just a week after a Bulgarian national was arrested on the charge of ATM fraud perpetrated through similar modus operandi, a CIB squad in coordination with Nepal Investment Bank's IT section, arrested three Romanian nationals from Tara hotel in Thamel for allegedly stealing from ATMs.  

The  Romanians have been identified as Ghita Huzum, 52, Losif Moraru, 48, and Alexe Cristian Bughiurlan, 45. The first was found involved in withdrawing cash from an ATM booth with a fake ATM card. The other two were found to have been involved in installing skimming devices. 

ATM skimming involves stealing debit card numbers and pin numbers after attaching electronic devices with a spy camera in the booth . The data is stolen through the insertion of  an illegal card reading device in the ATM. Sometimes they overlap the original keypad of the ATM with a fake one to steal the pin numbers, according to police investigators.

“Acting on the basis of complaints filed at the banks by ATM users and the sightings of suspicious transactions at odd hours, we were able to throw light on the growing trend of ATM fraud in Nepal and the active involvement of the Romanians,” said DIG Nawa Raj Silwal, CIB director.  

Nationals of East European countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania were reportedly active in such fraud in the US and New Zealand and also  in Asian countries like Japan and India in recent months. “But of late Nepal has been targeted as a safe haven as we lack provisions for stringent punishment of such crime,” DIG  Silwal added, explaining the major reason behind the spurt in the criminal activity.

“So I strongly recommend to ATM users to change their pin codes,” he urged.  

Last month alone, a Romanian gang of ATM skimmers was found swindling USD 100,000 from bank customers in various countries, and they were caught red-handed in New Zealand.

The skimmers would steal bank card numbers in one country and then spend large amounts against those 'vulnerable' accounts in another country. “Earlier, the skimmers used to steal codes from Nepal and withdrew cash abroad, but recently they have been found stealing numbers and withdrawing cash within the country also,”  police stressed.  

On October 28,  Bulgarian national Dimo Atanasov Stefanov, 38, was nabbed while ATM skimming in a similar fashion. A few months back also, Indian and Japanese police arrested some Romanians on similar charges.  

In the recent case here involving the Romanians, the three were found withdrawing money 'dramatically', living a 'high-life', purchasing expensive gazettes, and exchanging USD at low rates to escape law enforcement while making exit the country. They also bought a Hublot wrist watch priced at USD 26,960, possibly with money swindled from Nepal-based banks. The watch bought from a shop at Durbar Marg is 18 carat gold, police said.

They had also seized Rs 308,500, Euro 10,905, Philippine peso 470, 353 ATM cards, six mobile phones, two laptops, and skimming devices.

Police have alerted ATM users to inspect the door access device prior to opening the booths, inspect the machine for items installed over or around the PIN pad, and cover the keypad with the other hand while typing in the PIN. Bank operators said that it was impossible to regulate each and every ATM card  issued. Only those cards already misused or complained about are looked into by the banks.