Japan ATM Heist Nets Thieves $12.8 Million, Manhunt Underway

A Japan bank heist has netted an international gang of thieves just under $13 million, in a coordinated series of attacks that saw the thieves steal the cash and flee the country in a matter of a few hours, the Daily Mail is reporting.

Using forged credit cards equipped with data stolen from South African bank Standard Bank, the thieves — believed to number around a hundred — hit ATMs in convenience stores in Tokyo and elsewhere throughout Japan. Each time, the thieves withdrew 100,000 yen (about $915) — the maximum daily limit allowed at Japanese ATMs.

Japan ATM Heist

In the span of about three hours on Sunday morning, May 15, the thieves were able to get their haul of stolen cash and then flee the country before anyone noticed anything was amiss. Authorities believe that, by using foreign credit cards and working on Sunday, when Japanese banks are closed, the ATM thieves bought themselves enough time to grab their haul and get out of Japan without the risk of being caught.

In a statement, Standard Bank declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation.

“This involved the withdrawal of cash using a small number of fictitious cards at various ATMs in Japan. Investigations are at a sensitive stage and further information will be provided as appropriate.”

Standard Bank believes that the Japan ATM thieves used customer data from 1,400–1,600 customers (reports vary) to create the forged credit cards, according to MSN. Bank officials believe the thieves illegally got the customer data from a security breach.

Meanwhile, Japanese police are reviewing security footage from the ATMs’ security cameras and are working with South African authorities to help identify the culprits.

In fact, sophisticated thieves the world over are routinely targeting ATM’s for robbery, according to the Telegraph. Using forged credit cards with stolen customer data, and through manipulating the software that powers the machines, thieves can steal hundreds of dollars at a time. By hitting multiple ATM’s, and through working in concert with other thieves, criminal organizations can scam banks — and their customers — out of millions.

In 2013, according to the New York Daily News, “cyber thieves” targeted ATMs in 26 countries, including the United States, with forged cards using stolen prepaid debit card data. By disabling the daily withdrawal limit on the machines, the thieves were able to steal thousands of dollars at a time. All told, the coordinated ATM heists netted the thieves $45 million.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch noted at the time that sophisticated computer code and forged magnetic strips had taken the place of traditional bank-robbery tactics.

“Instead of using masks and guns, this cyber-crime organization used laptops and malware.”

Unfortunately for the ATM thieves in New York, a few low-level operatives were eventually caught. The leader of the New York phase of the operation was killed in the Dominican Republic was killed before he could be brought to trial. However, the top leaders of the operation remain at large to this day.

Dr. Steven Murdoch, a security researcher at University College London, said that when ATM heists happen, customers are the ones who feel the pinch the most.

“It looks like something has gone wrong at one or both banks and there’s not really anything the customer can do to protect themselves.”

In the U.S., according to banking website Bankrate, you need to report any suspicious transactions to your bank immediately if you want to have any hope of recovering your money.

“Typically, consumers must report fraudulent charges within two days, limiting your liability to $50. If you report ATM skimming fraud within 60 days, you’re liable for the first $500 of any transaction.”

As of this writing, police have no suspects in the Japan ATM heist.

[Image via Shutterstock/ImYanis]