An alert Omani bank employee has averted what could have been a major ATM heist here, leading to the arrest of a Malaysian gang before they could pull off a hi-tech robbery.
The six Malaysian suspects had allegedly map-ped out an elaborate plan to use customers PIN and ATM card details to withdraw money mainly from ATMs of banks linked to the Oman Switch.
According to Royal Oman Police sources, the Malaysian gang members had placed strip-like electronic cameras above the ATMs of three major banks in the capital area.
"The hi-tech camera would read the electronic strip on the ATM card and another camera recorded the pin number, which a customer keys in and stores the data," a source in the banking industry said.
They just needed a plastic card with an electronic strip to transfer the data and use it at a later date, said an expert. "They could even use phone cards and rewrite data on the electronic strip," he added.
The Malaysian gang arrived in Muscat on a visit visa and began their operation by first installing advanced hi-tech cameras to record data whenever customers used the ATMs.
However, an alert citizen caught them in the act of installing these devise and reported to the Royal Oman Police.
First a BankMuscat customer reported to his bank something suspicious at an ATM machine then a Bank Dhofar employee noticed some expatriates installing the device at the Oman Arab Bank ATM in Wadi Kabir. The Omani bank employee immediately informed the police.
The ROP team swung into action and laid a trap for the Malaysian nationals of Chinese origin. Within hours the accused were caught from their hotel apartment in Ruwi. Top bankers were also called in to the hotel apartment. Once cornered, the accused confessed to their plans to loot these ATMs.
According to the ROP, the six also confessed of having pulled off a similar heist in a neighbouring Gulf state recently.
The police also confiscated a number of camera and other hi-fi equipment besides plastic cards. The suspects arrested by the ROP were identified as Wang Henk, Sheok Wei Najan, Tonk Shei Shof, Tank Keon Fi, Sheonk Kong Fo and Loh Wei Thin.
The ROP thanked the Omani citizen who alerted the police when he discovered something suspicious about foreigners. "We advise citizens as well as residents to alert the police if they find anything unusual," a spokesman for the ROP said yesterday.
A banker, who preferred not to be named, said that it could have been a major fraud involving a very huge amount. It is believed that the gang was targeting to collect data from over 500 ATM cards and then use it over a weekend around the time salaries are credited to the bank accounts.
"People should report any protruding object near the slot where ATM card is inserted and the ATM users should be very alert," the banker advised.
Officials said the suspects face legal action and lauded the citizen who averted what could have been a major bank heist in the country.