Japan ATM fraud linked to hacking of South African bank

In connection with the international credit card fraud case in which more than 1.8 billion yen (about $17.6 million) was illegally withdrawn from automated teller machines at convenience stores in Tokyo and 16 prefectures across the country, police have found that there was an unauthorized access of a computer system of the Standard Bank in South Africa that caused a malfunction of the system shortly before the cash was withdrawn, according to sources close to the investigation.

Police suspect the unauthorized access was made by an overseas criminal group as it requires sophisticated knowledge of hacking. The sources said that police are investigating the case while exchanging information with South African authorities since they believe that the criminal group conspired with a yakuza crime syndicate or others, paralyzing the computer system before withdrawing the cash.

According to the sources, the cash was withdrawn with forged cards made with data stolen from credit cards issued by the Standard Bank in South Africa.

The sources said analysis of the computer system revealed that a program in the system was operated with no authorization early in the morning on May 15 shortly before the simultaneous withdrawals were made. Police believe the system was hacked by someone from outside the bank.

ATMs in Japan that belong to the Seven Bank and were used in the fraud case are programmed so that when a transaction is made, information concerning the holder of the card used for the transaction and their personal identification number is sent to a computer system of the bank that issued the card. Then, cash can be withdrawn when the transaction is authorized by the system.

However, the sources said that no traces of authorization for the withdrawals were found in the Standard Bank’s system for a period of two and a half hours from shortly after 5 a.m. on May 15. It is possible that those traces were erased after authorizations were made following the malfunction of the system.

The sources said it is likely that hackers broke into the bank’s system and obtained about 3,000 sets of personal data used in the fraud. It is believed that the forged cards had been prepared in advance by loading the stolen data onto empty cards.

According to the sources, South African officials who are investigating the hacking case visited Japan in mid-June and discussed the matter with their Japanese counterparts.

Police suspect that a group of overseas hackers who stole the bank data conspired with yakuza or a group of “ore ore” (“It’s me”) fraud thieves in planning the fraud because the illegal withdrawal started shortly after the bank’s system had an unauthorized access – as if it had been arranged beforehand.

In connection with the fraud case, police have arrested more than 10 individuals, mostly on suspicion of illegally withdrawing cash from ATMs. Also, police found a vehicle owned by a person connected to a gang affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate near the site of the fraud, apparently used in the role of a lookout.

An official of the Standard Bank told The Yomiuri Shimbun that an investigation is under way and the bank would make an announcement in due course.


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