I’m sure you’ve heard about some ATM fraud going around in Thailand, specifically Pattaya. And I’m sure the information went in one ear and out the other. Well, I was a victim this past week and it was a huge pain in the ass. I checked my online account for my American bank account that my ATM card is linked to and was shocked to see $1,850 USD missing from my account, taken in a series of 6 ATM withdrawals in Panama! It’s not like my card was stolen or anything; I had it in my wallet the whole time. I have never given anyone my ATM pin and I use the same ATM machine in a Tesco I’ve been going to for years. So put simply, there really isn’t a lot you can do to prevent this from happening to you if you use the ATM’s.
From what I now understand, a professional group of Russian criminals has a way of hacking into an ATM machine with some sort of camera like device which takes a picture of both sides of your card, and they’re able to ascertain your pin somehow as well. Then they have some kind of machine that duplicates the # and the strip on the back of the card in a new card. Thousands of miles away someone uses this duplicate card to keep hitting your account until limits set in or until there is nothing left. Even if your withdrawal limit goes into effect, they would just use the card again the next day already knowing exactly how high your daily limit is, and they’d continue for as long as they could.
Fortunately my American bank did reimburse me for all of the money. It took a few days, some paperwork, and lots of times spent on hold with customer service reps sorting the mess out. I check my account daily and if I didn’t there would have been more missing because they would have hit me the next day, but I had my bank cancel the card before they had the shot just a few hours after the last transaction in Panama. Again there isn’t a lot you can do to stop this, but here is my advice for you based on my experience:
1) Check your online accounts daily. Fraud and identity theft is so common these days that you need to be on guard. Monitoring your accounts regularly can limit some of the potential damage or headaches.
2) Make sure you’re banking with a company who gives you protection from these types of things. If they will not reimburse you for money stolen in a situation like mine you should find another bank. I have been told that many Thai banks will not give you the money back and that is reason enough for me not to use a Thai bank ATM card in the future.
3) Do not write any pertinent information on the back of your card. This is something obvious to most, but the customer service representatives I spoke with said it’s a problem even if you don’t lose your card. If you put your card in a machine that snaps a picture of the card, they can clearly see everything you have written.
And here are some tips you always have to consider to help you avoid Identity theft situations:
1) Select very intricate passwords; your DOB or a loved one’s name is not going to cut it.
2) Be careful on the internet. Don’t fill anything in to any site unless you can verify the SSL is from the domain you’re comfortable with. For example if you get an email from Paypal asking you to verify some information, you’ll notice the Root url it takes you to is not paypal.com It’ll be something a scammer has set up like, verificationsprocces12/paypal-verification
3) Be diligent when trashing statements with sensitive information.
4) Don’t carry your Passport around with you. It’s worth too much to a potential pick-pocket.
5) Keep your important documents and ID’s in the safest hiding place possible.
6) Enroll in an identity theft protection plan. There are many companies out there that offer you full protection with 100% or up to 1 million USD in guarantees. The average person in your home country may not need to pay for a monthly service like this, but if you’re traveling or living in Thailand I think it’s worth the money because you’re such a target when you travel. Each country has different companies so you’ll have to Google around to find one that offers you the kind of protection you require. You should also check to see that the company you’re thinking of using is getting mostly positive reviews from legitimate review sites.
I’m thrilled that I didn’t lose any money from this, but the minute I saw the withdrawals on my account my jaw dropped; it was not a happy few hours taking care of the problem. Do your best to protect yourself at all times. One bit of good news, I recently heard that a couple of Russian men were apprehended for ATM fraud; nothing like a stint in a Thai prison for the enforcement of justice.