Robbing made easier with smart cards

A blank card on which your credit or debit card details can be encrypted costs a mere Rs 20. The China-made data readers used to clone your card and copy all the information are available for as little as Rs 10,000 and can be delivered at your doorstep by online shopping companies.

In that one machine, data of around 3,000 cards can be stored. Crores of rupees can be siphoned through this.

Fraudsters don't really require any special skills in cloning. The user manual accompanying the data reader has it all. It takes as little as two minutes to clone any card. As a victim you can do precious little to save your money once all the data on your card has been copied on a blank one.

 It is while presenting your plastic money for making payments at business establishments that you can keep a vigil. Stay alert each time a person swiping your card for payments asks you to enter your PIN code a second time.

“If he intends to steal your money, he will keep a watch on your finger movement when you enter your card PIN at a petrol pump or a bar. For that, he will tamper with the circuit of the machine that will require you to enter your PIN again and again, claiming you have entered the wrong one,” explains KPS Malhotra, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch).

Once you appear to have entered the wrong PIN twice or thrice, you end up typing the number very cautiously, thus enabling the person to note it.

Your data is his too if he is in possession of a data reader machine. “But cloning of cards mostly happens at those establishments where a person takes away your card elsewhere for a brief while. He has enough time to pass it through his own machine and copy all the data,” adds Malhotra.

Petrol pumps are places where this happens most frequently. Being inside your car, you are unable to follow him to the place where he swipes the card.

He can use the card to make online purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM while concealing his identity from the CCTV cam by wearing a cap or a helmet. By the time you receive an SMS from the bank  informing of the deduction in your balance, it is too late.

To avoid being pursued immediately after the crime, the cheats withdraw money or make purchases late in the night so that you are likely to read the SMS only the next morning.
The black magnetic strip on your card contains all the data such as the credit card number and the expiry date. The credit/debit card is basically a key.

Like some hotels which have replaced conventional door keys with similar cards, your plastic money is also a key whose pattern and design, if duplicated, can be used by someone else.
“ATM machines do not distinguish between a fake and a genuine card if the data on them is the same,” says Malhotra.

While waiters, shop assistants and petrol pump assistants are mostly found involved in this fraud, culprits have included MBA graduates.

“They are aware of the easy money that can be made by this process. They help someone known to them get an entry as a waiter or an attendant to gather all the data,” the officer says.

Little to fear

With a prison term of only three years if convicted and easy bail, these fraudsters have little to fear. It is not easy to reach them either as you would find it difficult to tell police where all exactly you used your card in the recent past.

“Even if the person remembers every place he has made a payment, whom all do we suspect of cloning the card,” says the officer.

The officer tells about an executive with a private firm in Gurgaon whose credit card was used to make online purchases worth Rs 30,000.

“He had used his card over 50 times in the three months prior to being duped. About a dozen times he was asked to enter his PIN a second time. His money was gone,” he says.

The safety rules are simple if followed strictly. Change the PIN number very frequently and memorise it instead of saving it somewhere. Never respond to a phone call or a mail asking you for your card details or PIN number. A bank will never ask you for these details. While discarding your expired cards, make sure you cut it right through the magnetic strip.

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