Foreigners Charged over ATM Scams in Rangoon

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 22 December 2014

RANGOON — Five foreigners have been detained for their involvement in two separate ATM scams operating across Rangoon, with senior industry figures saying the incidents highlight security risks in the country’s banking sector.

British citizen Niranjan Rasalingam and three Indian nationals were detained and charged while withdrawing money using cloned ATM cards in Rangoon on Nov. 22. Police estimate that the group stole 25.2 million kyats (US$24,400) in 58 separate transactions across six local banks. A fifth member of the syndicate, also an Indian national, is currently still at large.

In a separate incident, police detained a Bulgarian citizen in the same circumstances on Dec. 13. His accomplice, another Bulgarian national, is being sought by police.

Pe Myint, managing director of the Cooperative Bank, said that his bank branches had been targeted by ATM scammers more than 20 times, with three successful withdrawals.

“We lost only about one million kyats—it’s a small amount, but other local banks have faced similar problems,” he said. “They used fake Visa cards with real card numbers, and the money that they stole came from accounts in other countries.”

Pe Myint added that Cooperative Bank was still waiting to see whether it would be liable to compensate account holders in the event that Visa did not take responsibility for reimbursing fraud victims.

Chit Khine, chairman of Myanmar Apex Bank, said that while his bank was not used for any fraudulent withdrawals, the incidents highlighted the need for local banks to increase security and update their systems, with a special emphasis on the role of the country’s sole card payment system, the Myanmar Payment Union (MPU).

“The Myanmar Payment Union should evaluate the security of the card system and local banks should recheck the quality of their machines too,” he said. “If we don’t pay attention to our systems and security, our customers may also eventually face these problems.”

The MPU was founded three years ago and established the first ATM payment system in Burma as the banking sector caught up from decades of neglect. Its members include 18 local banks, including three state-run enterprises, and its systems offer support for Visa, MasterCard and China Union Pay cards, amongst others. The first ATM in Burma began operating in 2012, and there are now more than more than 2,000 machines in Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw servicing 200,000 bankcard users nationwide.

The Myanmar Police Force said they are still investigating the incidents, according to the New Light of Myanmar.