Germany arrests two more in prepaid travel-card fraud



Muscat: Two Dutch nationals have been arrested by German police for their alleged involvement in the $40 million-Bank Muscat pre-paid travel card fraud, taking the total number of people arrested in the case so far to nine.

In Germany, a 35-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman were caught on February 19 for withdrawing 170,000 euros ($220,500) in Düsseldorf using Bank Muscat credit cards, said an agency report. In total, $2.4 million dollars was withdrawn in seven German cities, said the prosecutors.

The US prosecutors on Thursday said members of a sophisticated global criminal organisation hacked into two out sourced credit card processors and used stolen data to make more than 40,500 withdrawals in 27 countries, during two separate coordinated incidents in December 2012 and February 2013. The US Justice Department also accused eight men of withdrawing $2.4 million from 3,000 bank cash machines in New York in the space of 10 hours in February.

The gang had stolen $45 million in total from two Middle Eastern banks — Bank Muscat and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah — by hacking into outsourced credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from cash machines in 27 countries. The ringleaders of the global operation were believed to be outside the US.

According to the US Justice Department, the hackers allegedly increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by Bank Muscat, and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK) of the UAE.

They then distributed counterfeit debit cards to 'cashers' around the world, enabling them to siphon millions of dollars from cash machines in a matter of hours. A spokesman for the Dusseldorf prosecutor's office said the two Dutch people under arrest had come to Dusseldorf with the purpose of withdrawing money in Germany. The two suspects are accused of computer fraud and faking credit cards. It appears that the Royal Oman Police (ROP) must have sought the help of Interpol in nabbing the gang members.

The US Justice Department said seven of the men have been arrested. And the eighth, Alberto Lajud-Pena, allegedly the leader of the New York cell, was killed in the Dominican Republic on April 27.

Lajud-Pena was shot dead in a robbery at a house in the town of San Francisco de Macoris, about 100 miles northeast of Santo Domingo. Investigators found $100,000 in cash in the house, as well as an M-16 assault rifle, two 9 mm pistols, a revolver, ammunition clips and a telescopic sight. It was not clear if the killing or the money were related to the cyber thefts.
In late February, Bank Muscat disclosed that it would take an impairment charge of up to OMR15 million because it had been defrauded overseas using 12 prepaid debit cards used for travel.

National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah said the fraud against it took place at the end of last year and resulted in losses of around $4.7 million. RAKBANK Chief Executive Graham Honeybill said he believed the fraud went wider than lenders in the Gulf region.

"We are given to understand that the overall fraud encompassed a number of banks not only in the Middle East but in the USA and other countries," Honeybill said in a statement. The amount of the potential loss for RAKBANK was 17.4 million UAE dirhams ($4.7 million) and this had been fully provided for before it closed its 2012 accounts, Honeybill said. "The bank can confirm that none of its customers suffered any financial loss as a result of this fraud," he added.

The incident related to events in December 2012 and involved the bank's service provider in India, he said, without naming the provider or giving any further details.

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