Thieves in Taiwan make off with $3m from ATMs

A notice telling customers at a Taipei branch of Taiwan's First Commercial Bank that ATM services have been suspended. The island's top eight banks took the precaution following the discovery on Monday that thieves had hacked 34 ATMs at 20 branches of Fir
A notice telling customers at a Taipei branch of Taiwan's First Commercial Bank that ATM services have been suspended. The island's top eight banks took the precaution following the discovery on Monday that thieves had hacked 34 ATMs at 20 branches of First Bank and made off with about $3 million. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Island's top eight banks suspend services at 900 ATMs after heist at one bank's branches

Taiwan's top eight banks have suspended services at 900 Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across the island, after thieves made off with NT$70 million (S$2.94 million) in a coordinated heist.

In what is believed to be the first such case in Taiwan, the suspects hacked into 34 ATMs at 20 branches of First Commercial Bank (First Bank) in Taipei and Taichung on Saturday and Sunday.

First Bank, Bank of Taiwan, Chang Hwa Bank and five other banks yesterday said they were checking their German-made cash machines, while Singapore's DBS said it was not affected and did not suspend the services at 71 of its ATMs in Taiwan.

First Bank vice-president Yeh Chung-huei said malware is believed to have been installed in individual ATMs, making the machines dispense bills automatically. Taiwan police said no cards had been inserted into the cash machines.

A hunt is on for three men, two of them identified as Russians. The pair were captured on surveillance camera withdrawing the money. Two of the suspects are believed to have left Taiwan for Hong Kong on Monday. It is not clear if they fled with their loot, said police, who added that they still did not know the whereabouts of the stolen money.

They have not ruled out the possibility that the suspects are part of a global syndicate that has hit Japan and Turkey as well.

The police have approached Interpol for help but said they suspect that people from the bank could have been involved in the heist.

First Bank vice-president Yeh Chung-huei says malware is believed to have been installed in individual ATMs, making the machines dispense bills automatically. Taiwan police say no cards had been inserted into the cash machines.

Taiwan's Central News Agency said the bank's surveillance video shows two unidentified men in hats and masks taking out large amounts of bills from various First Bank ATMs. The suspects then dumped the bills into their backpacks and left quickly.

The bank first discovered the scam after finding irregularities in its accounts on Monday.

It promptly informed the island's top finance regulator, the Financial Supervisory Commission. Its vice- chairman Kuei Hsien-nung said he has asked First Bank to relook its internal controls and identify any loopholes in the ATM systems, adding that the bank should bear the costs of all losses suffered.

First Bank's Mr Yeh said none of its customers has been affected by the theft and their interests will be fully protected. Nonetheless, the bank was running checks on its cash machines made by German retail banking hardware provider Wincor Nixdorf. The case has prompted the other banks to do their own checks.

Quoting sources, local media reports said eight in 10 ATMs at Taiwan's major convenience stores and supermarkets belong to the German firm.

Like many customers of First Bank, homemaker Lai Hsu-lin, 46, was quick to check her account yesterday to make sure her money had not been siphoned off. She is considering switching to another bank. "I am not taking any chances, especially when thieves are so high-tech nowadays," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Thieves in Taiwan make off with $3m from ATMs'. Print Edition | Subscribe