DUBAI // Police have caught a gang who they say infiltrated a string of banks in the UAE by posing as employees and even securing jobs as bank staff to steal customers' credit card information, which they used to withdraw cash and make purchases.
In a two-pronged strategy, a gang of six split into smaller teams, the police said, with two masterminding the operation, three duplicating the identities of actual bank employees and one working within a bank over several months this year. The suspects allegedly telephoned customers, asking them to relinquish their account details. In some cases, they would even arrange meetings in which they would ask clients to hand over their credit cards on the pretext that they would be issued with replacements.
The gang are accused of duplicating credit cards belonging to hundreds of clients of banks including Emirates NBD, Emirates Bank, HSBC, ADCB, Standard Chartered and Royal Bank of Scotland. The total amount of money made through the alleged fraud was not disclosed yesterday. Dubai Police said they believed the gang could have used the recession as cover for its operation, because of a general increase in communication between bank employees and customers.
"Increasingly, foreign gangs look at coming here or even conduct their fraud from abroad," a police official said yesterday. "There are others out there looking into the same type of activity as this gang, but we are on top of it." The first arrest occurred on June 7 after an Emirati man was contacted by a supposed bank employee asking him to visit a branch to collect his credit card. Police did not name the bank.
He called the bank to confirm whether collecting a credit card in person was its policy and was told to contact the police immediately. In a sting operation arranged by members of the police Financial Crimes Unit, the customer agreed to a meeting with a member of the gang, which led to his arrest at Empost in Umm Ramool. "On him we found forged documents that bore the identity of a bank employee which he had been using, and other counterfeit credit cards and documents," said Col Khalil Ibrahim al Mansouri, the head of the Dubai Police CID.
Police arrested two more suspects, believed to have been the operation's masterminds, and seized a laptop computer they say was used to counterfeit hundreds of cards and chequebooks. Under questioning, the defendants gave up details of other members of the gang, whom the police then arrested. One member had worked inside bank branches as an employee, police said, and two had pretended over the phone to be bank employees.
"The gang was hierarchical, where the two who ran the operations had a bank insider and three that did all of the ground work in obtaining peoples details," Col al Mansouri said. "The way they shared the proceeds also proves that they had foot soldiers who obtained a salary." A police spokesman added: "The gang members were very intelligent, but their greed allowed them to slip up and led to their demise."
Early this month Dubai Police launched a "protect your credit card" campaign that used the internet, text messages and information desks in banks and government buildings to educate people on how to avoid bad practices and fraud. The National reported last month that fraud involving credit cards issued in the GCC was on the rise. Jonathan Campbell-James, regional head for security and fraud risk at HSBC, said the bank had experienced a "notable" jump in fraud in the first quarter of 2009 from the previous year.
He said an analysis conducted by the bank appeared to show criminals were employing conventional methods to purloin sensitive consumer data, but at an accelerated pace.
"I think we will see by the middle of the year that we'll be suffering from more transactions," Mr Campbell-James said at the time.