ABU DHABI // Thousands of people holidaying abroad for Eid al Fitr may not be able to gain access to cash as banks block international ATM transactions as they continue to combat an international fraud. The fraud is believed to have occurred after a network that banks use to share sensitive information, such as PIN numbers, was breached. The incident has been far-reaching, exposing most banks in the UAE. Nearly a month after issuing warnings via text messages urging customers to change their PIN numbers, banks are still on alert and restricting transactions.
Lloyds TSB said yesterday it had prohibited withdrawals from UAE-issued cards at cash machines in at least 10 eastern European countries, as well as Britain, the US, Spain, Canada, Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar and the Philippines. Although local withdrawal limits were still set at Dh10,000 (US$2,700) a day, the bank said it was considering lowering these as well. Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank said it had taken similar measures, "blocking all withdrawals from ATMs outside the GCC and blocking all card transactions in a defined number of countries outside the GCC".
Limits on daily cash withdrawals, the statement said, were also lowered. In addition to having temporarily "switched off the use of debit cards outside the UAE", Citibank said it had been blocking cards that were "at imminent risk of being compromised". The bank planned to re-allow the usage of "debit cards outside the country after Eid", the statement added. Many of the changes were apparently made with little or no warning to card holders. Barclays, for example, had been informing customers of such changes only when they called in, according to a customer service employee.
Although the banks have indicated that the fraud has affected debit card holders only, credit card holders have also been hit with banks contacting some customers and telling them their card may have been compromised. HSBC is among a number of banks to restore withdrawal limits to the levels in place before the fraud threat - to Dh12,000 for its Premier accounts and to Dh8,000 for regular customer accounts. They are also allowing customers to withdraw money from non-HSBC cashpoints in all countries bar Canada and Thailand.
Several bankers, who all requested they not be identified, said representatives of several financial institutions had confronted the bank suspected to be at the centre of the security breach. If found to have been the source of the breach, the bank could be expected to reimburse potentially millions of dirhams worth of fraudulent charges. "My fraud department is certain of it," said one high-ranking official. "Other banks are contacting them now, but as we stand, they are denying it."
Despite repeated requests by The National on the allegations, the bank under suspicion failed to respond. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Sara Hamdan