[Dave Birch] The electronification, virtualising and dematerialising of money means the electronification, virtualising and dematerialising of crime, because (naturally) criminals go where the money is.

FBI officials say a mix of banking Trojans and phishing attacks has plagued victims – mainly public institutions and small and midsize businesses – to the tune of $100 million in attempted losses as of October.

[From FBI: Online Banking Attacks Reach $100 Million Mark]

Note, by way of comparison, that about $60m was stolen in physical bank robberies throughout the USA in the whole of 2008. How stupid do you have to be to walk into a bank with a gun when you could just stay at home and send out some e-mails? We must find a way to accelerate the transition to e-payments and at the same time make e-money more crime-resistant than cash.

E-bank robbery, or should I say bank e-robbery, is now on an industrial scale. There are fraud factories producing the basic components needed to (for example) skim card details from ATMs and a sophisticated distribution network in place to connect the fraud factories with the criminals at the retail level.

The police found fake ATM components, card readers, five luxury cars, lots of cash, 100 cloned cards, documents showing wire transfers, and at least one handgun. The police had been secretly watching the gang for 9 months, and moved in after intercepting a package Tuesday containing 31 tiny circuit boards designed to surreptitiously intercept and store data from magstripe swipes.

[From Video: Raid on Romanian Bank Card Skimming Ring | Threat Level | Wired.com]

Whoa! Anyway, note that amongst the things the police didn’t find were prepaid accounts of any description, mobile phone top-up cards, Marks and Spencer’s vouchers or any other para-currency. Criminals work in cash. This is one of the reasons why they target ATMs. Because that’s where the cash is. And not only in the USA.

European security agency Enisa is calling on banks and law enforcement agencies in EU member states to raise awareness of cash machine safety issues following an alarming 149% rise in ATM attacks in 2008. With the annual cost of ATM crime in Europe approaching EUR500 million, the European Network and Information Security Agency is urging consumers to be more aware of the risks and take precautions to avoid personal loss.

[From Finextra: EU agency ‘alarmed’ by rise in cash machine fraud]

But there was another element to Romanian fraud factory story that caught my eye. It seems as if the forces of law and order are as ineffective in the USA as they are in the UK:

Romanian nationals have been sporadically popping up in ATM skimming busts around the world. In September, police in Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County arrested 26-year-old George Puflene in the act of attaching a skimmer and PIN pad plate to a Citibank cash machine… Puflene and his crew had reportedly already plundered $70,000 from at least 50 consumer accounts… It was Puflene’s second bust for skimming. He was arrested In Boynton Beach, Florida, for the same caper a year ago, along with then 30-year-old Mihai Arnauta, also from Romania.

[From Video: Raid on Romanian Bank Card Skimming Ring | Threat Level | Wired.com]

So if you are caught redhanded attaching a skimmer to an ATM, an act that will earn you tens of thousands of dollars, you are not only out and free to do the same thing in less than a year, you don’t even get kicked out of the country. No wonder a great many people are making the perfectly sensible career choice of non-violent bank robbery. Anyone robbing a bank with a shotgun should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. Interesting. The old “gimme your wallet” stickup routine wouldn’t work with a lot of people these days. I rarely carry cash on me and, if I do, it’s a very small amount–maybe a dollar or so.

  2. I say that the electronification, virtualising and dematerialising of money means criminals get away with it even more easily. Because we all know who the real criminals are right? Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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