ORMOC CITY – Banks here have automatically deactivated hundreds of Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards of their clients, who have made withdrawals or balance inquiries during the Holy Week holidays. This, after “skimmings” were reported the week after.
Mark Paul Escollante, manager of Bank of Commerce here and president of the Ormoc Bankers Club, said the deactivations were to protect their client’s accounts. He is also asking ATM cardholders and depositors to visit their respective banks, so that their cards could be replaced immediately. Those who have contact numbers were advised over the phone.
Joey Diez, administrative manager of HISUMCO, the only existing sugar mill here, who was at the Bank of Commerce to pick up his new card at the time of the interview, said he received a call from his bank about the matter. He said he was contented on how the Ormoc bankers handled the situation, and did not mind having to pick up a new card. “What is important is they (the banks) are protecting the depositors’ money,” he said in the vernacular.
The banks here in the city made the decision to deactivate the ATM cards of depositors after they found good reason to believe that some ATM machines in the city were compromised or hacked. Around 30 people have already reported to their various banks that their ATM accounts have been wiped out by unauthorized withdrawals. Some withdrawals were traced to Cebu and Manila.
Escollante said the first reported incident was on April 7 yet. He said that while the bankers’ club was immediately informed about it, they thought it was an isolated incident.
However, red flags were raised by the next day, when around 5 people reported the same problems. The number of complaints has grown to almost 30 already, he said, but he believes they have already stemmed the problem.
The bankers club, he added, immediately had an emergency meeting on April 8, to investigate the issue and find solutions. They already have had two more meetings over it, on April 13 and 15.
He added that they have already pinpointed the “suspected compromised ATMs”. The cards of depositors who have made withdrawals or other transactions over it during the Holy Week holidays have been deactivated since. They believe that these machines were hacked during the holidays, enabling the hackers to copy the PIN of the cardholders.
He also assured depositors whose monies have been wiped out by the scammers that they will get it back, after investigating the veracity of their complaints. How soon, however, he cannot exactly say, because it would depend on how fast the results of the investigation by each bank would be. Ormoc City has 18 banks.
Escollante also said that at the onset, they kept the news of the ATM skimming under wraps, so as not to alarm the public. However, three victims reported their plight to the police and had it recorded.
The first was Geraldine Gascon, manager of Camella Homes here, who lost P 42,900.00 to the ATM thieves. Her money was withdrawn on April 6. She discovered the fraudulent withdrawals on April 8.
By April 9, Daisy Lagapa, an employee of Land Bank, reported to the police that ATM thieves wiped out P 110,000.00 from her account. The withdrawals were done over a period of two days, in an ATM machine in Cebu.
The third victim is Angelita Tulin, 40, a resident of Brgy. Benolho in Albuera, Leyte. She discovered the theft on April 8 in the evening. She was shocked to see that her balance was only 12,357.00 and P 90,000.00 was missing. She decided to wait for the bank to open the next day, to file a complaint. To her dismay, the remaining balance of P 12,357.00 had been withdrawn already by then.
Escollante said that they have also warned other banks in the Eastern Visayas to watch out for similar incidents. So far, however, he has not heard of similar incidents happening in other cities in the region.
They have also beefed up their security measures, with some banks returning to the practice of having 24-hour, round-the-clock security guards to keep an eye on their ATM machines for any suspicious circumstances. By Lalaine M. Jimenea with a report from Paul Libres