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Soaring cards fraud brings skimmer blitz.

Byline: John Revill Crime Reporter

A massive offensive against credit card crime is to be launched in Birmingham today after the city recorded the second highest level of plastic frauds in Britain.

The extent of counterfeit card fraud soared by 74 per cent last year, costing businesses and individuals in the city almost pounds 2 million.

Now Birmingham is to feature in a national crackdown on the organised criminal gangs behind the losses, which are costing the UK pounds 138 million a year.

The initiative, which involves banks, retailers and police uniting to implement anti-counterfeit steps includes a card industry agreement to set up a national police card fraud squad.

The two-year pilot of a national cheque and card fraud squad is set to begin early next year and will to focus on the organised crime syndicates behind the frauds known as skimming.

The Skimming Crackdown programme will also urge shop, restaurant and petrol station staff to report card counterfeiters anonymously to Crimestoppers as well as introduce secure 'smart' chip cards to the UK.

Skimming is the fastest growing type of card fraud and is a method of counterfeiting which involves copying the magnetic stripe on a credit or debit card by swiping it through a small hand held card reader.

The copied data is then used to make counterfeit cards. Counterfeit card fraud accounts for nearly 40 per cent of total UK card fraud losses that hit pounds 373 million in the last year.

'Skimming is often linked with other serious organised crimes such as drug trafficking,' said Melanie Hubbard, of the Association of Payment and Clearing Services (APACS).

'Highly organised criminals bribe or threaten people working in petrol stations, restaurants and shops to skim customer cards for them.

'Staff in restaurants, petrol stations and shops are urged to call Crimestoppers anonymously if they know anybody involved.

'Skimming may sound like easy money at first, but getting involved with these criminals and indirectly with the other crimes they fund is a serious mistake.'

Det Insp Dave Churchill, head of the major fraud unit at West Midlands Police, said people needed to be more aware when using their cards.

He said: 'The figures for Birmingham have risen alarmingly and are now second only to London.

'Credit card fraud is an easy way for criminals to make money for other activities, like drug dealing, and people need to be more careful with their cards.

'They need to be especially vigilant when cards go out of their sight when they are paying for things, as this could be an ideal opportunity for their cards to be skimmed.'

Mr Churchill advised people to check their receipts against statements, and contact card issuers if an unfamiliar transaction is found.

He said: 'We are trying to identify parts of the city where the problem is particularly marked, and increase public awareness about the fraud.

'The machines used are getting smaller and smaller, and some criminals are setting up factories to clone cards. Once the conmen have card details, they can be e-mailed around the world.'
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 5, 2001
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