Police suspect an international crime syndicate of stealing over $12.7m from cash machines across Japan in less than 3 hours: this audacious heist involved thousands of well-coordinated withdrawals.
It is believed that a hundred people, none of whom have been apprehended, coordinated the use of fake bank cards carrying account details illegally obtained from a bank in South Africa. Apparently, 100 hackers used the forged cards at 1,400 convenience store ATMs in the capital Tokyo and 16 other prefectures, each making withdrawals of 100,000 yen at a time (the limit of the cash machines), thus making 14,000 withdrawals altogether.
As part of the investigation, Japanese police have asked the authorities in South Africa to find out how the bank card information was obtained. According to transaction data retrieved from the ATMs, the thieves most likely used information for 1,600 bank cards issued by the unnamed South African bank.
The local media reported that the withdrawals began just after 5am on 15 May, and the last one was made just before 8am the same day. The police believe that the members of the international crime syndicate may no longer be in the country. By using bank cards issued in a different country from the one where the fraud occurred (and on Sunday when banks were closed), the thieves were probably able to buy themselves enough time to leave Japan before their crime was discovered.
Industry watchers point out that Japan is the latest victim of a range of ATM heists which took place using bank cards forged using leaked bank information. In one case, criminals withdrew 4.5bn yen in 26 countries, including Japan, over two years.