Credit Card Cloning
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

What next? After Dolly the first cloned sheep that enbled the world’s scientific community to shockingly strike at the very foundations of the theory of Genesis and the story of Creation, and the on-going debates that followed over the last many years on the ethics of cloning humans, we now have cloning of a different type targeting plastic money – our credit cards! Unlike Dolly and others who formed the animate part of most debates of this nature, credit cards are totally inanimate – but warrant serious attention of fraud investigators. For I believe they strike at the very root of our sustenance, an individual’s or corporate’s financial existance.

Delhi’s South District police arrested last month a Malaysian punter Toe Koon San with his Thai partner and boutique owner Ravinder Kaur Kukreja on charges of defrauding upmarket jewellery outlets in South Extention, over 5-lakh rupees by effecting purchases using ‘cloned’ credit cards. The arrests followed Kukreja’s re-visit to a jeweller who had been tipped off by ICICI Bank through which all foreign credit card deals in India are routed and processed.

The police recovered from them nine ‘cloned’ credit cards, with bank data of genuine card-holders of Netherlands and elsewhere, copied on to them. While there is a lookout for two more accomplices – San Kar Tong alias Chan and Vir Wan, the racket is believed to have wider international ramifications with the nucleus of gang operators and operations centred around South-east Asian countries.

In a credit card industry still at a nascent stage in India hoping to expand and find over 90-million new customers within the next two years, this development can pose a dampner and a matter of serious concern. And yet, neither are the banks who should be concerned most over these frauds, nor the country’s law enforcement agencies, are sentitive to the magnitude of the impending threat, or geared enough to meet it.

The current fraud is not the first of the type here, for exactly two years ago, Gurgaon resident Mayank Garg was among 13 arrested for similar fraud by Delhi Police. Garg learnt the technique of cloning cards from Bangkok and enlisted the help of bartenders at some of South Delhi’s most frequented joints to pick potential victims.

As expected, the use of stolen credit or debit cards to acquire equipment and service is bound to be on the increase. Retail merchants and others increasingly accept credit or debit cards to order wares, prepaid services, or pay metered billing because it is convenient for customers.

Most use of credit cards in India currently revolves around retail outlets in markets, and the travel tourism and food industry like hotels, reataurants, pubs and places of entertainment. From investigations around the globe into such scams, instances of cloning credit cards are zeroed in onto waiters and bartenders of some unscrupulous restaurants who manage to copy a card by swiping it twice: once through the payment machine and once through a palm-sized electronic device which records the information on a magnetic strip. A ‘skimming’ technique, whereby your credit card details are obtained, copied onto a bogus card, which is then ready for use alternately.
Your card is then returned to you and you are none the wiser that it now has a clone and someone will have a spending spree at your expense. You are unlikely to know anything about it until you get your next bill or your card bounces! So the advice is never to let your credit card out of your sight.

Vast majority of credit card fraud worlwide is also seen to be committed without possession of the physical card. Most telephone purchases require the account information, not the card. The name, number and expiration date may have been retrieved from a discarded receipt imprint, subsequent to a purchase. If that is the case, the true person probably still is in possession of the card and will not know that it has been illegally used until the next bill arrives.

International experience into such fraud investigations has also revealed that most do not necessarily make embossed printed duplicates. Many scamsters find it is easier to use an expired (same type) credit card with an erased magnetic stripe. The targeted original cards are first swiped through a devise in the ‘read’ mode and the data is stored in an attached computer. Next the devise is switched to a ‘write’ mode and the ‘replacement’ expired card is swiped though it. In less than 60 seconds ten duplicates can be made.

Another variation of this trick is to ‘write’ the card information onto a blank card, equipped with a blank magnetic stripe. After the duplicates are made, a person can immediately go on a buying spree with the original physical card and its clones. Sometimes the blank appearing duplicate cards are used in collusion with a crooked merchant.

Counter-clerks accepting payments are rarely known to compare the name and data on the card to the magnetic data. This is an area where education is required, to reduce fraudulant use of cloned cards.

Further, fraud detectives’ findings indicate that 50% of card fraud can be wiped out with the introduction of chip and PIN cards, the latest change in retail since decimalisation – as such credit cards require a PIN number to activate a transaction, making card cloning near impossible. However, pessimists feel that the criminals who commit these and other crimes always manage to find a way around the system using technology themselves to their advantage. So it is only a matter of time before thay find a way around the chip and PIN credit card activation process too.

900 words: 03 .05.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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