Daily Archives: 2006-07-26

Growing epidemic of card cloning

Markus points us to a story on card fraud by German TV reporter Sabine Wolf, who reported some of our recent work on how cards get cloned.She reports a number of cases in which German holidaymakers had cards cloned in Italy. In one case, a sniffer in a chip and PIN terminal at a skilift in Livigno sent holidaymakers’ card and PIN details by SMS to Romania. These devices, which apparently first appeared in Hungary in 2003, are now becoming widespread in Europe; one model sits between a card reader and the retail terminal. (I have always refused to use my chip card at stores such as Tesco and B&Q where they want to swipe your card at the checkout terminal and have you enter your PIN at a separate PIN pad – this is particularly vulnerable to such sniffing attacks.)

According to Hungarian police, the crooks bribe the terminal maintenance technicians, or send people round stores pretending to be technicians; the Bavarian police currently have a case in which 150 German cardholders lost 600,000 Euro; the Guardia di Finanza in Genoa have a case in which they’ve recovered thousands of SMSs from phone company computers containing card data; a prosecutor in Bolzano believes that crooks hide in supermarkets overnight and wire up the terminals; and there are also cases from Sweden, France, and Britain. Customers tend to get blamed unless there’s such a large batch of similar frauds that the bank can’t fail to observe the pattern. (This liability algorithm gives the bankers every incentive not to look too hard.)

In Hungary, banks now routinely confirm all card transactions to their customers by SMS. Maybe that’s what banks here will be doing in a year or two (Barclays will already SMS you if you make an online payment to a new payee). It’s not ideal though as it keeps pushing liability to the customer. I suspect it might take an EU directive to push the liability firmly back on the banks, along the lines of the US Federal Reserve’s Regulation E.