Criminal gangs from Eastern Europe are using card-skimming devices in raids on cash machines around the country, it emerged today.
The gangs are believed to be moving between major cities such as Limerick, Galway and Cork for two-week periods to target busy ATMs.
The Irish Payment Services Organisation (Ipso) said card-skimming crime had escalated since it first became a serious problem in 2003.
Spokeswoman Una Dillon said: “The criminal gangs might come in for two weeks to a particular area and they they’ll leave again. In general you, as the customer, wouldn’t know anything has happened at all until funds start to leave the account.”
She said the criminals involved in card-skimming were mainly from Eastern Europe. “There are two or three separate gangs. We don’t see any Irish gangs involved.”
She added that the gangs were capable of targeting a particular ATM and taking up to €60,000 from customers over a brief period.
There are nearly 150 million cash dispenser transactions every year. The criminals attach card-skimming devices to an ATM to copy the information on the customer’s card. The devices are often spray-painted to match the colour of the ATM.
The gangs also put in a micro camera to discover the customer’s PIN number or hang around the machine to look over their shoulder.
“One of the simple things we tell people is to cover your hand over when you’re keying in the PIN. If they don’t have your PIN, the card is no use to them,” said Ms Dillon.
Criminals are also using a device known as the Lebanese loop, which traps an ATM card and fools the customer into thinking it has been swallowed by the machine.
Last year, a Sligo customer lost €2,400 euro in a Lebanese loop-style operation when criminals retrieved her card and PIN number and used it to withdraw money at several ATMs in the West of Ireland.
However, all customers who are defrauded at cash machines are automatically compensated by the banks.
Ipso has created warning stickers and electronic alert messages which are now being used on bank ATMs around the country.
It is currently working to collect statistics from the major banks on the extent of card-skimming crime across the country.
The first European ATM Crime report found that, in an eight-month period last year, there were 2,377 reported attacks of card-skimming at ATMs, resulting in losses of nearly €46m across Europe.