Thailand ATMs hacked by gang linked to Taiwan theft

A Thai man approaches automated teller machines (ATM) in front of the Government Savings Bank head office in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug 23, 2016.
A Thai man approaches automated teller machines (ATM) in front of the Government Savings Bank head office in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug 23, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK (AFP) - A gang of foreign criminals stole millions of baht by hacking a Thai bank's ATM network in a theft believed linked to a similar one in Taiwan, police said on Wednesday (Aug 24).

The hackers made off with at least 12 million baht (S$468,731) by inserting cards installed with malware into multiple cash machines run by Thailand's state-run Government Savings Bank (GSB) in late July.

The theft came shortly after Taiwan announced that a group of foreigners had managed to steal US$2.5 million (S$3.38 million) from cash machines using a similar method.

A Latvian, a Romanian and a Moldovan were arrested over the Taiwan heist but a number of suspects - including five Russians - managed to flee abroad.

Police in Bangkok on Wednesday announced that GSB had alerted them to a similar hack in what they said was a first for Thailand.

"As of now the evidence we have found makes us confident that this group is linked to the gang who committed a similar robbery in Taiwan," Police General Panya Mamen told reporters.

At least five foreign suspects travelled from Taiwan to Thailand to carry out the theft, he said.

"Investigators believe their identity is Eastern European though we are investigating whether any Thais were involved," Mr Panya said, adding that those five had likely left Thailand.

Police said at least 21 ATMs were hacked, some of them spitting out up to a million baht at a time. They said the bank had not immediately noticed the theft.

Those behind the heist stood for long periods at the cash machines, usually late at night, prompting police to ask Thais to watch out for strange behaviour by foreigners at cash machines.

Thailand has long been a hub for cyber criminals, both Thais and foreigners.

The current junta government has vowed to crack down on foreign criminals in an operation which immigration police have called "Good guys in, bad guys out".

Last month Thai police announced they had detained a Russian man and an Uzbek woman in cooperation with the FBI. They are accused of running a hacking syndicate that stole some US$29 million from bank accounts.