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CPBJ Extra Blog

The $45M ATM heist: The stuff of movies -- and it's scary

By - Last modified: May 10, 2013 at 2:28 PM
Tim Stuhldreher
Tim Stuhldreher

If I were a Hollywood producer, I would have jumped on the phone Friday and tried to secure the rights to the story of the multinational $45 million ATM heist that federal prosecutors say took place in two stages in December and February.

The gist of the story, according to the New York Times: Hackers accessed the computer systems of credit card processing companies in India and the U.S. They raised the limits on prepaid card accounts at banks in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Then confederates armed with swipe cards went into action, hitting ATMs in more than two dozen countries. On Dec. 21, they netted $5 million in a few hours; in mid-February, a staggering $40 million.

“In New York City alone, the thieves responsible for ATM withdrawals struck 2,904 machines over 10 hours starting on Feb. 19, withdrawing $2.4 million,” the Times wrote.

The paper goes on to quote a former Justice Department official saying that this sort of crime “could be a systemic risk to our financial system.”

Indeed. When everything is online and outsourced six ways from Sunday, then yes, you can end up with a real-life James Bond caper: a data breach in India, chicanery in the Mideast, then coordinated teams of thugs pulling wads of cash out of ATMs in Manhattan.

Here in the midstate, there’s enough personal, hometown, Robert Enck-style banking going on (he’s the Elizabethtown banker I profiled last month) that you can almost imagine community banking is still the norm, not the online, hyperconnected, whizz-bang stuff.

But of course it’s the whizz-bang stuff that’s the norm. And it’s not as though small banks don’t have ATMs and online banking. They access a lot of the same systems that large banks do. “Systemic risk” means, you know, the whole system. As I said, this incident sounds as though it would make a great movie. As a real-life illustration of the security of our financial system, I’m not sure I like it as much.


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