The number of skimming victims of holders of Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) automated teller machine (ATM) accounts rose yesterday with dozens of government personnel, including a ranking police officer, a Cebu Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge, a retired RTC judge and a Cebu City prosecutor, reported having lost thousands of pesos in salaries and savings in unauthorized withdrawals by a skimming syndicate.
LBP has yet to release the exact number of depositors victimized by the skimmers but at least 50 government employees, including policemen, soldiers, jail personnel and firefighters, trooped to the LBP main office along Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City on Wednesday to have their pin changed or do over-the-counter withdrawals after they found themselves to be victims of skimming.
Among the victims was the head of the police unit task to investigate the incident. Chief Insp. Ryan Devaras, chief of the Investigative and Detection Management Branch (IDMB) of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO).
Devaras said he, too, lost all the money in his LandBank payroll account.
“Previous pa to nako nga sweldo, wala nako gi-withdraw tanan, so naa pato sa akong card. Pero pag-check nako pag Monday, wala nay sulod akong ATM (It was from my previous salary. I did not withdraw everything so there was still some amount left in my card. But when I checked last Monday, my ATM account was empty),” Devaras told Cebu Daily News by phone yesterday.
Devaras said that in CCPO alone, more than five policemen reported they were victims of the skimming scam.
Also victimized were former Cebu RTC judge Mienrado Paredes, who lost P100,000 from his savings account; Cebu RTC Judge Alexander Acosta, who lost P20,000; and Cebu City Prosecutor Jennifer Leson, who lost P100,000.
Last Tuesday, Bruce Ragas, Population Commission in Central Visayas (Popcom-7) director, reported losing P20,000 in authorized withdrawals from his ATM account at LBP.
Manuel Infante, LBP’s first vice president and group head for Cebu, Bohol, Samar and Leyte, said they discovered the skimming device installed on its ATM in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City, last Feb. 27, which prompted the bank to block all ATM accounts transacting at the outlet that may have been compromised starting on the first week of March.
“Based on the CCTV (closed-circuit television) footage we are reviewing, there were two people involved. One of them was a foreigner, seen inserting the device. The other could also be a foreigner, but it was hard to tell because he had a mask and cap on,” he said on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, at least 50 Cebu-based government personnel who complained of unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts reported that most of the skimming incidents occurred over the last weekend.
Skimming involves the use of an electronic device attached to the ATM that records personal information from the card, including the pin number, of those who have used the machine, giving skimmers access to a client’s bank account.
The LBP branch in Banilad counts among its clients the officials and employees of Popcom-7 and the National Food Authority in Central Visayas, said Ragas.
Ragas said he was not the only victim from Popcom-7, as at least five personnel from his office also complained of unauthorized withdrawals.
Infante said the bank collated all leads and presented them to the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7) on Wednesday.
A photo of one of the perpetrators had been posted in all bank branches and ATM outlets within Infante’s areas of jurisdiction. Infante urged depositors that have used the compromised ATM outlet to visit their respective branches and check any discrepancy on their accounts.
“I’d like to assure depositors of Land Bank, especially all those victimized, that they don’t have to worry about the deposits subjected to unauthorized withdrawals. This will be evaluated and will be restituted as in the past,” said Infante.
Victims of unauthorized withdrawals may file a complaint at the branches where they hold ATM accounts in.
The complaint, which serves as an affidavit, contains when the withdrawal was made and how much was withdrawn.
Depositors can recover their money in eight to 10 days if they can prove that there had been an unauthorized withdrawal from their account, upon careful evaluation of the bank, he added.
Upon the mandate of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), LBP is also set to upgrade by May all their ATM cards to EMV, a global standard for cards which are equipped with computer chips and technology that will be difficult to crack compared to ordinary ATMs.
Skimmers use devices that can copy depositors’ data from the magnetic stripes found at the back of ATM cards, but EMV cards are more difficult to exploit since these store data on integrated circuits.
EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, named such after the three companies that originally created the standard.
Infante said technicians also regularly check on the security of offsite ATMs while bank branches are also ordered to check on their respective machines several times during the day.
All depositors whose accounts were believed to have been compromised received text alert yesterday from LBP, including PO1 Crisbert Balones of the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO).
“Pagdawat nako sa text, wala na nako gamita ang card sa machine, deretso nako dinhi. Naa may uban gikaon ilahang card sa machine (When I received the text message, I did not anymore use my card and immediately came here. Others said their cards were captured by the ATM machine),” Balones, who was among those who trooped to LBP, told Cebu Daily News.
Balones said it was fortunate that his account was still intact but he was not sure about his fellow policemen from CCPO who also received the same text message from LBP.
Senior Supt. Jonas Ejoc of the CCPO also went to LBP yesterday and was still in the process of verifying his account when CDN caught up with him.
“Nabalaka ko pero ako pa e-check if naa bay nakuha sa akoa (I am worried and I am still going to check if there was also a withdrawal from my account),” Ejoc said.
The LBP management said they send at text blast to all LBP clients in Cebu who might be victims of the scheme.
“Dear valued Land Bank clients, we receive a report that your card might have been used in a suspicious ATM. As security measure, we put your card temporarily on hold,” read the text message.
Meanwhile, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said they will coordinate with LBP and will secure footage of the CCTV installed near ATM machines to possibly identify the suspects.
Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, meanwhile, said that confiscated skimming devices should be presented to the public to make them aware how it looks like.
“They (LBP) should surrender the skimming device and then show it to the public so that the public will know the physical appearance of the skimming device so all depositors will be aware,” said Tumulak, the city’s deputy mayor on police matters.