x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

ATMs warning being ignored

Residents continued to visit ATMs in Khalidiyah despite a warning that thieves had "skimmed" debit card numbers and Pins from machines in the area.

ABU DHABI // Residents continued to visit ATMs in Khalidiyah yesterday despite a warning that thieves had "skimmed" debit card numbers and Pins from machines in the area.

Johan Valentine, an American, said he had heard the warnings but assumed the problem had been fixed. "If everybody knows about it, the camera must be gone," he said after using an ATM at Spinneys supermarket. "I figured it's probably OK."

The US Embassy sent an email to US citizens on Thursday alerting them of debit card fraud connected to ATMs in Khalidiyah, particularly in Spinneys and at Khalidiyah Mall.

Thieves mount devices called skimmers to the front of ATM slots, transmitting card information to nearby locations. They might also have used hidden cameras to capture Pins. They use the details to steal from customer accounts.

Yesterday, a US Embassy spokesman expanded on the alert, saying the embassy received a series of similar reports from Americans affected in the 10 days leading up to Christmas.

"The most important thing is to keep an eye on the account, check accounts regularly and then immediately contact your bank or institution," Robert Arbuckle said.

Mr Arbuckle would not disclose the number of people who reported problems, but said there had been a "rash of incidents".

The embassy passed the information on to local authorities, he said.

One victim of the scam said thousands of dollars had vanished from his bank account, spent at Abercrombie & Fitch, Nordstroms and other vendors in California.

The American, who spoke anonymously, said he had used the HSBC ATM machine at Spinneys in the week before Christmas. Two days later, he noticed he had $35 left in his account. He was reimbursed for the fraudulent charges, he said.

Abu Dhabi Police were not aware of the skimming cases, said Col Dr Rashid M Bursheed, head of the CID's organised crime unit.

HSBC spokesman Tim Harrison said yesterday that the bank had not received any reports of problems with the Spinneys ATM.

The bank issued a written statement yesterday, saying: "HSBC has been made aware that skimming has been reported within the UAE and takes this criminal activity very seriously."

The statement urged customers to shield the ATM number pad from view as they enter their Pin and avoid using ATMs if they see "suspicious individuals" nearby.

Staff at Khalidiyah Mall were also unaware of complaints.

"We personally went and checked," said Praveen CY, the assistant mall manager.

"We did not find anything in our ATMs," said Joseph Thomas, customer relationship manager for the mall's branch of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

The email from the US Embassy recommended that debit card users avoid machines that appear altered, watching for raised keypads or glue around the keypad and card slots. Customers should also inspect the slot before inserting their card, checking if it is loose.

vnereim@thenational.ae