High-Tech Counterfeiters Cloning Cards

LONDON - A high-tech credit card scam that aims at globe-trotting businessmen is alarming European bankers.

The scam, which originated in the Far East, involves counterfeiting premium credit cards, such as Visa and MasterCard gold cards, which offer the highest credit lines.

The sophisticated counterfeiting operations use card-reading equipment available in the Far East. The equipment picks up account data encoded on a card's magnetic stripe, then copies the data onto another, often stolen, card. The original card is then is returned to its owner, who is unaware the account has been compromised.

Cost Already High

The scam is costing British banks millions of dollars each year, say bank security specialists in London.

That adds to the $250 million annual cost of conventional fraud and theft on plastic money in Britain.

In one case known to British police, a London businessman's gold card was duplicated in Europe and the counterfeit used to run up bills.

The stores involved presumably checked the fake cards with the issuing bank, but the card details were cleared as genuine, police said.

The counterfeiters don't steal the cards from the victim but instead duplicate key data if they can briefly examine the plastic in private, security specialists say.

A spokesman for Barclays Bank PLC, Visa International's biggest member in Europe, says counterfeiter have to have "undisturbed access to the card for a couple of minutes in order to reproduce certain features."

Detective Christopher Newman, head of the Central Check Squad of Scotland Yard's international organized crime branch, said that though counterfeit cards are mainly produced in the Far East, there is "growing evidence" they are being used in Europe as the data-reading devices become more widely available.

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