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Cash machine racket gang hits Tyneside.

Byline: By Brenda Hickman

A gang of international cash machine crooks has struck on Tyneside.

Racketeers have targeted people using bank ATMs across the country as part of the infamous Lebanese Loop scam.

Now an alert has gone out from police in the North East after a series of strikes on Tyneside and in Durham.

In the latest rip-off, a woman in her 30s was confronted by a man pretending to be a deaf-mute at a NatWest cashpoint in Park View, Whitley Bay.

He pretended to help her after her card was swallowed in the machine but watched as she tapped in her PIN number.

Within four days the card had been used throughout the country and then twice in Marseilles. The woman lost more than pounds 1,000 before she realised what had happened.

Today Det Insp Phil Butler of Northumbria Police warned bank customers to be vigilant.

He said: "Thieves have been operating this sophisticated scam in other parts of the country but offences in the North East were rare.

"The Lebanese Loop is a device which grabs the card and a member of the gang then retrieves it after the victim has walked away.

"We are now aware this has happened on Tyneside and in the Durham area and I would ask people to take extra precautions when withdrawing cash."

Police were alerted to the nationwide racket after it was set up in the UK by members of a Middle East crime syndicate, believed to be from the Lebanon.

North Tyneside police are appealing for help in identifying a man who is the main suspect in the Whitley Bay theft.

The woman customer had tried to withdraw cash at the NatWest ATM on Friday, October 10 when her card was retained.

After putting in her PIN number a few times, the man, whom the woman thought was deaf and mute, grunted, encouraging her to try again.

She eventually walked away and left the card. The man, who had blond hair and was in his 20s, later got into an orange/red car.

The main offenders responsible for other thefts around the UK have been of Eastern European appearance.

The Association for Payment Clearing Services and police have joined forces to warn the public about the thefts.

Det Insp Butler said: "We would advise people to check the card entry point to see if the card can be removed.

"Also check for anyone hanging around nearby and get descriptions of any vehicles

being used.

"If you have a mobile phone, contact the bank immediately to cancel the card and contact police."

Another woman was tricked into using a cash dispensing machine bearing a bogus notice in Durham.

The woman was on her way to work on Saturday, October 11 when she decided to use the machine at about 8.20am.

When the machine retained the woman's card and failed to dispense any cash a man stepped forward and pointed to a printed note stuck on the machine giving instructions on what to do if it malfunctioned.

The woman followed the instructions, which involved entering her PIN number but, unable to retrieve her card or withdraw any money, gave up and walked away.

Later the victim discovered pounds 500 had been withdrawn from her account with the card.

Det Sgt David Hall of Durham Constabulary said: "This is the first time a bogus notice has been used to dupe a person into repeatedly keying in their PIN number while someone watched from behind."

The suspect in this incident is described as tall with dark hair, tanned skin and a foreign accent.

NAnyone with information about the Whitley Bay bank card theft should contact police at North Shields on (0191) 214 6555.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 22, 2003
Words:622
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