(19 November) The spree of ATM frauds which, according the police estimate, has illegally funneled over 1 billion baht from numerous bank accounts in recent months has unnerved many Thais, reports Prachachart.
The fact that these crimes also took place in the busy, affluent areas of Bangkok such as Lumpini and Phayathai has only compounded the fears shared by many Bangkok citizens that their ATM cards would be at risk anywhere in the city.
The scheme, known as ?ATM skimming?, involved placing device on digit pad and card insertion point of an ATM which would read the card data and passwords punched in by unsuspecting victims. The use of small camera to secretly monitor the victims? passwords is also known in some cases.
Although two Russians and a Thai tourist police officer suspected of skimming in Bangkok and other provinces have been arrested yesterday, the police believe more suspects might be involved in the illicit operation.
For many Thais, the cases raise their awareness about the safety and potential risk of their cards, and the advantages of ?chip and pin cards? which would provide more security for debit and credit cards are once again being suggested by a number of experts.
In fact, the Bank of Thailand, citing these benefits, has previously suggested that every commercial banks in Thailand should adopt the chip and pin system within 2 years.
Many banks are understood to be studying the issues, while some have already applied the new system to their card circulation, such as Bangkok Bank PCL, which is considered to be the first bank in Thailand to import the technology.
Khachornwut Tayanukorn, Deputy Manager of Bangkok Bank, explained that under the chip and pin system, the chip card will contain a small CPU inside the cards. Once a card is inserted into the machine, the information stored in the magnetic tab and the CPU must match each other.
Additionally, the main information about the account will be stored inside the chip and needs another password and a separate system to reach.
"Even if the card is skimmed, the tampered machine will only reach part of the information," said Mr. Khachornwut, "The information stored inside the chip will be unavailable to the skimmers.".
However, he added, the disadvantage of the card is that it can only be used with Bangkok Bang’s machines. "We’ve got 8,300 machines and so far it was more or less ok. But if the entire ATM system changed to the [chip and pin], it would benefit our customers more.”
Kris Chantanotoke, Executive Vice President for the Bank of Ayudhya (Krungsri), said that the bank is currently choosing the appropriate software and possibility to improve the ATM system, and that there is possibility Krungsri ATMs will eventually adopt chip card as well.
But the bank will be required to spend an enormous sum of money to change the operating system, Mr. Kris noted. According to Mr. Kris, each cash machine costs at least 200,000-300,000 baht to replace.
Meanwhile, Pongsit Chaichatphonsuk, Executive Vice President of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), said the bank has previously tried to equip anti-skimming systems to its ATMs, but the skimmers successfully cracked the defence and find ways to skim the users? information afterwards.
“I personally think there is no system that can prevent the fraud completely 100%," Mr. Pongsit asserted, "The conversion to chip card system will not guarantee that it could prevent the fraud neither."
He added, "Also, considering all the potential costs involved, it might take a thousand years to earn the profit".
SCB operates about 9,000 ATMs and 70% of them are incapable of reading chip cards, Mr. Pongsit said, with over 10 million debit and credit cards in circulation. "The overhaul is going to take a lot of time and a lot money, and we cannot push the burden to our customers".
Mr. Khachornwut, of Bangkok Bank, agrees that chip and pin will not be a permanent answer to the problem of skimming.
"The customers should always be vigilant of their account activities regardless of the developed technology in fraud prevention, because the skimmer gangs are also developing their own technologies to reach the money holders? information," Mr. Khachornwut said.
He suggested that the customers can act on their own preventive measures by choosing safe locations of ATMs, e.g. inside or around the bank′s branch, noticing any irregularity of the machine, and changing passwords frequently.
Another option is to sign up for SMS alert to see the movement of the account, only at 10 baht a month, which amounts to less than 1 baht a day in exchange for safer services.
Ms. Chanatip Jariyawiroj, director of Financial Consumer Protection Centre (FCPC) which operates under the Bank of Thailand, also advised the customers to be their own last line of defence.
“Technology has developed rapidly, and we must learn how to prevent the risk”, she was quoted as saying.
Ms. Chanatip said that if the customers notice anything suspicious at the ATMs, they should warn the machine operators as soon as possible.
Debit and Credit card users are also encouraged to check out the latest update to prevent risks of becoming skimmer victims by visiting www.facebook.com/hotline1213 or consult the FCPC call centre at 1213 hotline.