The National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7) has stepped into the series of unauthorized automated teller machine (ATM) withdrawals in Cebu by unidentified scam artists who have victimized at least 50 government employees, including policemen, soldiers, a prosecutor and even court judges.
NBI-7 Special Investigator Florante Gaoiran said they were requested by Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) to conduct an investigation and to identify and arrest the perpetrators.
“We’re about to start the investigation and verification process as requested by Landbank,” he told reporters yesterday.
Manuel Jose Mari Infante, Landbank’s first vice president and group head for Cebu, Bohol, Samar and Leyte, personally visited the NBI-7 office in Barangay Capitol Site, Cebu City, at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday to seek their help.
Gaoiran said they will ask Landbank to provide them with footages of the closed-circuit television (CCTV) installed near its ATMs, bank records and other pertinent documents that can help in the investigation.
“For now, Landbank is still collating their records to find out the total number of victims, the amount lost and the extent of the damage,” he said.
Initially, however, Gaoiran noted lapses in Landbank’s handling of the ATM skimming cases.
He said that while they discovered the use of a skimming device on the ATM placed at their Banilad extension office on Feb. 27, they only reported the matter to the NBI on Wednesday afternoon.
Had the matter been reported earlier, Gaoiran said, NBI and Landbank could have already done something that would prevent skimmers from victimizing more depositors.
“Og gi sayo pa og report, dili na unta mo daghan ang nabiktima (If they had immediately reported the incident, the victims would not have been this many),” he said in an interview with radio dyAB.
Infante said they did not know their ATM in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City, had been compromised until on Feb. 27 when their technicians discovered a skimming device on the machine.
At least 50 Landbank depositors have filed a complaint before the bank after they transacted at the Banilad extension office, where the ATM was found to be installed with a skimming device and several insertions were found.
Infante said they did not immediately report the incident as they had their own procedures to follow, insisting there was action on their part.
“We were reviewing CCTV footage at that time. When we went to NBI, we were asked for supporting documents. There has never been a time that we did not cooperate,” he said.
He also said the moment the skimming device was discovered, they immediately informed their head office so the accounts of depositors transacting at the extension office would be blocked.
Landbank has 75 on-site (at the banks) and off-site ATMs all over the province of Cebu, with 76 government agencies coursing their payroll through the bank.
Cebu Bankers Club (CBC) president Eugene Rigodon, for his part, said that all banks have their own security protocol to follow.
“If there are devices recovered, there are certain procedures that will be observed. The devices are sent to the office, for one,” he explained.
Rigodon said that banks, especially in Cebu, are very dependent on their head offices.
Whatever their advice or instruction is, that is what local branches will heed, Rigodon said, adding that they are not at the liberty to make decisions on their own and coordinate with other agencies.
“We also have our security department handling these particular issues, although I must say that these statements on the delays of our reporting are valid. But from our end, our hands are tied by the policies that bind us,” said Rigodon.
Amid the controversy, the CBC president asked the banking public for cooperation in reporting suspicious people around ATMs.
Bank is also a victim
Lawyer Leonides Sumbi, director of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Cebu regional office, said that banks involved in these ATM scams are also victims.
“In that sense, they are at a disadvantage. They have to shell out money if a depositor can prove that there had been a withdrawal made from their account without their authorization,” she said.
This was the only liability a bank had to depositors that have fallen victim to ATM scams, and banks should make good on this.
As to other legal aspects, she said the BSP’s supervision division monitors the performance of banks as far as compliance to regulations is concerned.
Senior Supt. Joel Doria, director of the Cebu City Police Office, said they too are looking into the controversy, but Landbank has denied their request to be furnished with copies of the CCTVs near ATMs.
“We were told that (Landbank) need(s) a court order before they can release the footages to us. That (footages) could have been a big help in our investigation,” he said.
At present, Doria said they have suspects in mind, but the police don’t have sufficient evidence to bring them to the court.
Doria also said that those involved in ATM skimming can easily get away with their crime because the bail for the offense is only P20,000.
“ATM skimming is not new. It has been there for quite some time, only that the victims now are government employees. Before, there’s not much of a noise because the victims were civilians,” he said.
The victims are workers of government agencies that used Landbank for their payroll accounts, where salaries are deposited by their respective offices.
At the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7), one of its employees, Alan Veloso, also claimed to be a victim of ATM skimming. He said he lost about P5,000 to skimmers.
Although the amount was small compared to what other victims lost, Veloso said banks should refund the skimmed deposit since they worked hard for the money that was stolen from them.
Veloso, the property custodian of PDEA-7, said he could have used the money for the laboratory examination of his wife who has diabetes.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, meanwhile, urged the public, especially the city employees, to be extra careful in withdrawing their money from ATMs.
Osmeña said he will discuss the matter with the department heads.
The machines accessed by the employees must be in places where it is easy to inspect, he said.
“We should know how this device looks like. It is not enough that when the Landbank says it is so small you can’t detect. So why not you tell us how it looks like so we will know? People know what to look for,” said Osmeña, who was also a victim of ATM skimming last year.
The skimming device is disguised to look like a part of the machine. The device saves personal information from the card, allowing the suspect to access the bank account.
In order to compel banks to establish additional security measures in their ATMs, Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak wants it to be included in a national law.
Tumulak, who is the deputy mayor on police matters, said he will ask Cebu City south district Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa to sponsor a measure that will amend Republic Act No. 7653 or the New Central Bank Act and require all banks to put up additional security measure, such as installing CCTVs on ATMs and requiring banks to notify depositors of any withdrawal from P5,000 and up.
Tumulak, who was also a victim of ATM skimming, authored the resolution approved by the City Council in November last year asking the BSP and CBA to ask banks operating in the city to put up additional security measures, but their call went unheeded./With Inna Gian Mejia and Jose Santino Bunachita