ATM and payment scams abound

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Dozens of automated teller machines (ATMs) known as “minibanks” in Norway have been hit by various criminal scams again this summer, while several merchants have failed to recover payments made through allegedly fraudulent bank card terminals. They’re furious that the state’s bank payment system isn’t taking responsibility for their losses.

Meanwhile, a growing number of bank customers withdrawing cash from ATMs have been led to believe there’s a problem with the ATM when no cash is dispersed. In fact, reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week, the ATMs have been manipulated with a surprisingly low-tech device that police call a pengefelle (cash trap). Swindlers, they contend, have placed a simple aluminum device with a sticky underside over the cash dispensing portion of the ATM.

When the machine dispenses the cash, it literally sticks to the device. Customers are left wondering what became of their money and many wander away from the manipulated ATMs, which police believe are under surveillance by swindlers who quickly approach the ATM, remove the device, take the money and run.

Increase in incidents around the country
ATMs belonging to Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, have been manipulated in Arendal, Lillesand and Lyngdal this summer, also in Drøbak, Ski and Vestby south of Oslo. A few cash traps were found on ATMs in Bergen and Voss last fall, but the number of them has rapidly increased this summer, according to bank officials and police, with 40 incidents reported in Oslo alone so far this month. Police are warning bank customers that if their ATM transactions go through and no cash emerges, they should could police or the bank immediately and not leave the ATM. They can also check to see whether a cash trap has been mounted – if so, it can be easily removed and the cash retrieved. Bank officials have also said any losses would be recovered, and that customers will be held harmless.

The cash trap scams had seemed to replace card-skimming scams this year, with Bjørn Åge Hansen of the Oslo Police District commenting that swindlers’ “creativity” is “high in this area.” Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Thursday, however, that police now fear a burst in skimming as well after finding that an ATM belonging to Sparebanken Pluss in Kristiansand had been tampered with. An alert customer noticed “unusual equipment” installed on the ATM, including what turned out to be a miniature camera used to record customers’ pin codes.

Police tracked down a Romanian man and his two sisters who were filmed tampering with the ATMs in Bergen and Voss on security cameras. While the two sisters failed to turn up at their trial, the man was convicted, jailed and later deported. Police hope to track down other cash-trap swindlers as well.

Merchants face major losses
Police have been less helpful for the merchants who’ve lost hundreds of thousands of kroner on apparent bank card payment terminal fraud, reports DN. Merchants complain that a company called Touchpay, which sold them the portable bank card payment terminals that are widely used in Norway, failed to pass on the payments made by customers at the terminals. Police initially dropped the investigation claiming lack of capacity, but after increasing numbers of merchants filed complaints, they’ve taken up the case again.

In one case, customers of a music store in Bærum west of Oslo had used their debit or credit cards at the Touchpay terminal to the tune of NOK 430,000, but the money never showed up in the store owner’s account. The credit card payments reportedly flowed directly from the terminals into a Touchpay account at Sparebank 1, from which it was dispersed to accounts in several other banks. The bank denies responsibility as does the banking industry’s common payment system now known at Nets, which had sold the terminals to Touchpay, which resold them to the merchants.

The merchants “are caught in a very unfortunate situation where they haven’t received the money they’re owed,” Ulrik Marshall of Nets told DN. “The case is complex, because Nets has an agreement with Touchpay, which in turn has contact with its customers (the merchants).”

The problem is that no one has been able to gain contact with the owners of Touchpay, who seem to have disappeared after the company went through a series of ownership and management changes this spring. None of its phone numbers function, e-mail goes unanswered and the company’s office turned out to be a post office box at a messenger firm in Oslo. Nets has cut off all of Touchpay’s terminals, but not before merchants all over Norway had complained they weren’t getting their money. Nets has also filed a report to the police, who are resuming their investigation, and legal conflicts loom.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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