Swindlers prey on Russians’ credit cards

Up to $79 million may disappear from bank cards in Russia by the end of the year, as the amount of credit and debit card fraud in the country has doubled over the recent six months.

While Russia’s bank-card market is rapidly growing – the number of transactions has increased by 37 per cent since 2010 – more and more people are beginning to feel the downside.

During the first half of 2011, fraudsters stole over a billion rubles from private bank accounts, which is 70 per cent more than the same period last year.

Over a half of all illegal transactions in Russia are conducted with the help of point-of-sale terminals used in the retail and service industry. Identity theft over ATMs is also on the rise, accounting for 40 per cent of all cases. This is significantly different from the rest of the world, where cash machines account for only five per cent of all thefts.

Most Russians fall victim of skimming – a method used by criminals to capture data from the magnetic stripe on the back of a plastic card. Another popular trick is PIN capturing with the help of cameras or other devices attached to cash machines.

Experts say Russian legislation lacks measures to effectively fight this type of crime. The maximum punishment for skimmers is two years in prison and often they manage to get away. Even if caught red-handed, the person will be let go with a written promise to stay in the country. Usually they have enough time to destroy all evidence against them before the trial begins.

Another reason for the spread of skimming is the banks’ attempts to save on transaction safety. Even the simplest protection means, such as special keyboard protectors can cost up to $50 per ATM, which increases the cost of operating the chain. Even more expensive is the installation of surveillance cameras or hiring personnel responsible for tracking illegal transactions.

While this could indeed make operating ATMs more expensive, they already lose on average around $190 per cash machine. Very soon the banks’ losses from skimming might exceed the cost of additional safety measures.

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