Last Sunday, Smriti Arora (68), took five of her closest friends out. After treating them to dinner at a restaurant in Connaught Place, she picked up the tab and paid a bill of Rs 5,300 using her husband’s debit card.
A few days later, her husband, a retired government officer, received a message that Rs 75,000 had been debited from the card.
When the Aroras approached the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police, the investigating officer asked them to recall all the places where the card could have been used. Apart from paying restaurant bills, or drawing money from ATMs, the Aroras didn’t use the card elsewhere.
After an initial investigation, the needle of suspicion turned towards the restaurant staff. While paying the bill, Smriti had handed the card over to the serving staff and shared her PIN. “We’ve questioned the waiter, but do not have sufficient evidence to establish that he has indeed duped the elderly lady,” an official said.
The Aroras are not alone. Police data reveals that in the last 18 months, incidents of card cloning and fraud have gone up from around 15-20 monthly to 70 per month. Police say banks are increasingly approaching them to file complaints since their account-holders are losing money. “Every day, the Delhi Police receives one or two cases where a customer has been duped,” a senior official told Mail Today.
THE MODUS OPERANDI
Last week, a 25-year-old employee of a bar in Connaught Place was arrested for stealing credit card details of at least seven customers and duping them of about Rs 12 lakh. According to the police, when customers would hand over their credit cards, Pankaj Chaudhary, the accused, used a device called ‘skimmer’ to copy their card details, which he would then sell to a third party at Rs 1,000 apiece. “Chaudhary also noted down the PIN entered by customers while making payments and passed it on to a gang that cloned cards,” said Madhur Verma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (New Delhi District).
Senior police officials in the Cyber Cell say the nexus of staff at restaurants, petrol pumps, shopping malls and movie halls with data diggers on the ‘Dark Net’ has made card users in the country vulnerable.
“It is not necessary that the conmen would immediately draw money from the victim’s account. They are paid for forwarding card details using skimmer machines. The details – including the card number, name, three-digit CVV number (card verification value) and the expiry date – are then sold on the Dark Net. These details are used to carry out international transactions or online shopping,” a senior police official told Mail Today.
Cyber security expert Gautam Kumawat explains the modus operandi: “Most of the times, the cloner uses a handy skimmer machine that reads and saves card details. Also, careless behavior of many citizens who are not adept at using plastic money can help facilitate such crimes.”
While making a payment, if customers hand over the card to the serving staff and either reveal the password PIN or use the password in front of the staff, they are inviting trouble.
SKIMMING THE SURFACE
The easy availability of skimmer machines on the Internet, priced between Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000 – many of them made in China – is also fuelling an explosion in card cloning, say the police.
“To avoid detection, scamsters who clone debit cards conduct the transactions abroad and wait for some time before drawing money or making a purchase online,” said a police officer. Police suspect that the perpetrators might also be using malware to gather card details, and then using these to create a virtual card.
It isn’t just senior citizens or people not used to credit card culture who’ve fallen prey to card cloning. Mamata Shukla, 38, a school teacher based in North Delhi, lost Rs 80,000 after her credit card was allegedly swiped after visiting a restaurant at Nehru Place.
“The criminal was so fearless that he even used my card to buy an electronic gadget online,” says Shukla.
“The police were unable to nab him as he gave a wrong address and asked the delivery man to deliver the consignment at another place,” adds Shukla.
Last year, an Air Force officer and a manager with an MNC ended up losing Rs 40,000 each, the maximum permissible daily transaction limit from their accounts, after their cards were cloned. According to Aneesh Roy,
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Cell), cases of card cloning are growing at an alarming rate. “These cases are registered at the district level itself as the entire process of cloning cards and then taking out money doesn’t require cyber expertise. But attaching skimmer machines at the point of sale is happening much more frequently across NCR. It can only be curbed if the users of the card pay extra attention while swiping the card.”
The police warn users of not handing over the card to anybody at restaurants or bars and being cautious when they use the PIN password.
A simple precaution such as hiding the three-digit CVV can ensure that the card is not misused.