x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Banks try to shore up image with customers hit by fraud

To reassure wary debit-card customers, banks announce further security measures.

Customers queue at an HSBC ATM machine at Marina Mall.
Customers queue at an HSBC ATM machine at Marina Mall.

ABU DHABI // Banks announced further measures yesterday to reassure wary debit-card customers as local financial institutions continued to deal with an international fraud. In addition to reimbursing 42 customers whose accounts were breached, Dubai Bank said it had taken steps to prevent its cards from being used outside the country. "We have communicated directly with our customers to advise them of necessary precautions, and we have already a series of measures to protect customer accounts and minimise any potential threat," said Mohamed Amiri, head of retail banking at Dubai Bank, according to the state news agency WAM.

National Bank of Abu Dhabi said it had taken enhanced measures to protect consumers from fraud and would issue full reimbursements to any of its customers who lost money as a result of unlawful activity, WAM reported. Saif al Shehhi, the bank's general manager, said: "As part of this process we had to block certain transactions from overseas locations which may have caused some temporary inconvenience to customers travelling."

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank sent messages to customers yesterday imploring them to change their personal identification numbers, WAM added. Earlier in the week, customers of HSBC, Citibank and other banks received text messages urging them to change their ATM personal identification numbers, which led to confusion and long queues at ATMs. The warnings came in response to a flurry of unauthorised charges made on debit and ATM cards in the past week after the network that allows banks to share card information was breached, financial officials familiar with the matter said.

The breach appeared to have affected most financial institutions in the country. Tens of thousands of dirhams were illegally withdrawn overseas in such countries as the Philippines and Malaysia. Banks also began blocking an undisclosed number of debit cards yesterday and asked customers to wait several days to be issued new ones. Some customers complained their cards were cancelled without warning.

One Visa debit-card holder, who changed her PIN after receiving warnings in text messages from Citibank on Wednesday, found after two failed attempts to withdraw cash from ATMs at Al Wahda Mall that her card had been cancelled. She said she was told of the cancellation only when she called Citibank. "I asked why they hadn't informed the customers about this. They said, 'You received a text message from us telling you to change your PIN?'" said the woman, who declined to give her name.

"I told them that I already changed my PIN number, but they said they blocked the people who regularly use their cards, which I thought was weird because everyone uses their card." She said Citibank told her they would send her a new debit card in three to four working days. Citibank could not be reached for comment. Banks in Abu Dhabi kept to their usual short Ramadan hours yesterday, but none of the 10 banks visited by The National had displayed any signs warning their customers of the fraud.

Scores of HSBC customers filled ATM queues at the bank's Airport Road branch, which closed at 2pm. Yasser Wahib, an employee at a contracting company, changed PINs on cards he held from three different banks, including HSBC. "There's a lot of people changing their PIN codes right now," said Mr Wahib, standing outside the HSBC office after making a routine transaction. Eva Brunczvikova, 27, an employee of Etihad Airways, learnt the extent of fraudulent activity after she had finished opening an account at HSBC.

"I wasn't told by anyone about this inside the bank," said Ms Brunczvikova. "I'm shocked." hnaylor@thenational.ae