ATM SCAM HITS CEBU
Over P400,000 lost by 8 victims, including Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak
Eight persons, including Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, have fallen victim to automated teller machine (ATM) scams by foreign-looking nationals who withdraw more than P400,000 from their accounts.
The series of unauthorized withdrawals from ATM bank accounts of seven persons all happened on Nov. 16 inside a mall in Naga City in southern Cebu, where they lost a total of P423,900 to bank scammers.
The Naga City incident happened barely a day after Tumulak expressed outrage over the hacking of his Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) payroll account where bank scam artists had taken an unspecified amount of money during withdrawals from September 19 to Nov. 9.
In both incidents, closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) footage indicated that the perpetrators in the skimming activities were not Filipino, according to both the police and the victims.
Skimming involves the use of an electronic device attached to the ATM that records personal information from the card, including the pin number, giving scammers access to a client’s bank account.
Tumulak, a second-term city councilor, yesterday told reporters that he reported last week to LBP that a big amount of money was missing in his ATM account, which holds his salary from the city government, but he claimed he has not been getting any cooperation from the bank.
He said he was angry that the bank did not inform him beforehand of the unauthorized withdrawals, amounting to about P50,000 a day. “In other banks, if there are compromise cases, they will inform the depositor. But in my case, even a single text, wala (there was none),” he said. To track down the suspect, Tumulak requested other banks with ATMs in the same area where his deposits were withdrawn to give him a photo of the person who made the withdrawals, but he also did not receive any help from these banks.
A foreign national is the supposed suspect of the scheme as shown in a video taken by a CCTV installed in a nearby establishment.
Tumulak said the incident was ironic considering that he is the deputy mayor for police matters and the chairman of the city council’s committee on public order and safety and was also the one who formulated the implementing rules and regulation on the placement of CCTVs all over the city.
“They’re trying to test my intelligence on technology. Ako gyuy gitestingan. Mura mag bugal-bugal (They made a fool out of me),” he said.
Tumulak said he tried to give the banks a copy of the video to alert them about the identity of the suspect, but all the banks he approached refused to receive the video. The councilor said he was now planning to file charges against these banks that he declined to name.
Last week, Tumulak said they were able to track down the suspect somewhere in Fuente Osmeña but the foreign national was able to escape. Tumulak said he was able to get a copy of his bank statement dated September 19 to November 9.
“Kada adlaw, mo-withdraw og tag-P50,000, plus naa pay shopping (Every day there was a P50,000 withdrawal. There were also shopping charges),” he said.
Supt. Gregorio Galsim, the Naga City police chief, visited Tumulak Thursday morning and informed him that the same incident occurred in the city. “According to information, it is done by a European-looking person,” he said. Due to the numerous incidents, Galsim instructed police deployment in ATM outlets in Naga to avoid the same incident to happen.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña yesterday believed that LBP should be held responsible of the incident.
“If the bank is the one holding your money and the bank is robbed, then the bank should be responsible,” he said.
The mayor said he believed the ATM scam was done by an organized crime group but he did not think it was widespread in the city. In Naga City, policemen in uniform carried megaphones to remind people to be “extra-careful and vigilant” when withdrawing money from previously compromised ATM machines inside a mall in Barangay East Poblacion of the city.
The Naga police said they still have no lead to any possible suspects and as to why the scam targeted seven people only, but confirmed that the total money lost was P423,900.
They also said fliers were distributed around the city to provide information on ATM safety and security to the people.
Initial reports of responding Naga City policemen led by Galsim stated money were stolen from their accounts using the two ATM machines inside the mall on Nov. 16.
According to the police’s latest reports, the largest amount the suspects stole from a single bank account amounted to P128,000, which belonged to the wife of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW).
Before she lost her money, the woman had earlier withdrawn from the same Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) ATM machine a small amount of cash, a friend of the OFW’s wife said.
The stolen money was meant for the monthly mortgage of the house that the victims recently purchased in Naga City, the friend said.
Following reports on a series of ATM scam incidents in Cebu and Naga cities, a banking industry leader assured the public that banks in the province remain secure.
Eugene Rigodon, president of the Cebu Bankers Club (CBC), said banks have scam and fraud prevention measures that kick in when ATMs are suspected to have been compromised.
“Once the system suspects that an account has been compromised, it automatically shuts down the ATM so the person can no longer use it,” he told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview on Thursday.
Rigodon added that some banks have also started to migrate from regular ATM cards to the EMV (Europa, MasterCard, Visa)-enabled cards for further protection from skimming activities.
Officials of the CBC and Philippine National Police (PNP) met on Thursday to discuss the string of incidents and the investigation that was launched.
Other security measures strictly imposed by all banks to minimize the likelihood of ATM frauds are limits on daily withdrawal as well as fast notifications of large transactions from banks.
Depending on the bank, ATM withdrawal limits range from P20,000 to P50,000 every day.
Clients are notified through email or text when the banks’ systems detect large withdrawal amounts.
Rigodon reminded the banking public to be vigilant when withdrawing money from the ATMs, adding that it is important to cover their hands when entering their pins to prevent skimming.
“Skimming is impossible to complete if the pin cannot be seen while being entered,” he explained.
He also said that, as much as possible, card holders should withdraw from the same ATM every time.
“If this is the case, they’ll be familiar with the ATM. They’ll have it memorized already. If something is odd, missing, has been added, they’ll know,” said Rigodon.
He added that the banking public should also know their balance, so they can be certain whether their accounts have been tampered with without them knowing the next time they use an ATM.
The moment ATM users get suspicious about their accounts, even for just a bit, Rigodon said they should immediately report it to their individual banks.
From there, banks will conduct their own investigation on the matter.
Rigodon also said that rest assured, the PNP and the Cebu banking industry are working closely to catch the culprits in the ATM scam in Naga City.
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