FIA official Abdul Ghaffar Mirani told Arab News that investigators have unearthed a scam of about $105,000 and expected the number to rise after digital forensic experts searched confiscated equipment and cloned debit cards used by the scammers.
Mirani withheld the exact number of people arrested but said that mostly Chinese nationals had been taken into custody. “Our team is probing further as more complaints are pouring in and data is being compiled from other cities,” he said.
The cyber heist is being dealt with by the FIA’s National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), the country’s only technology-based crime division, which was set up 10 years ago and assists other law enforcement agencies in Pakistan.
On Friday, FIA Director Shakeel Durrani said at a press briefing that the investigation had revealed the involvement of Canadian, Nigerian and Italian hackers, as well as an Indian scammer identified as Sorev.
The information was divulged by Saqibullah, a Rawalpindi resident running a racketeering business, who as their front man sold stolen financial information to the hackers. He is also involved in identity theft, credit debit card cloning and extortion. His arrest has expanded into a FIA investigation searching for his collaborators.
Durrani said, “The prime suspect (Saqibullah) would take photos of ATM machines to match suitable skimming machines that were ordered from other countries.”
The cash withdrawals from the hacked accounts were in China, Canada, Italy, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, US, but were not limited to those countries, he said.
Revelations of the ATM-skimming scam were revealed last week by the country’s largest financial institution, Habib Bank Limited (HBL), which confirmed more than $105,000 had been stolen from 559 hacked HBL customers, mostly in the cities of Karachi and Lahore.
“We have more than 10 million customers, which means that the size of the amount missing is not very significant for the HBL, while the number of customers affected is also low, said HBL’s corporate and marketing executive Naveed Asghar, who was reported in a local English daily. “It is a fraud and we must check it and find the culprits ... it happens in all the countries that use ATMs,” he said.
Banks using outdated technology fitted with aging security protocols attracted a “organized foreign group” to hack the ATM booths, suggests the FIA, which is approaching the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s banking regulator, to introduce biometric policy and enforce it across the banking spectrum.
An HBL official in Islamabad told Arab News: “The practice of skimming is not new,” but the bank’s new biometric security measures, currently being introduced in its ATMs, “will prevent and curb future hacks.” Though HBL seems to be the main target, Standard Chartered Bank, Faysal Bank Limited, Bank Al Habib Limited and other banks have also fallen victim to cybercrime, he said.
“Officially the bank hasn’t sent out warning notifications to customers of this continuing fraud but we are compensating the affected account holders. An internal memo has been circulated for each bank branch to check and monitor the ATMs,” the banking officer said.