The scheme came to light after a number of employees at the U.S. Embassy -- and a handful of other US citizens -- had unauthorized purchases show up on their credit and debit cards in recent months, prompting the embassy to issue a warning on its Web site.
"To date, all of the reported fraudulent charges have been made from the United States," the message said. "We are aware of no fraudulent transactions originating in the UAE."
That story postulates that criminals had perhaps infiltrated the servers of a payment processor. But a story that ran Saturday in Times Online indicates that automated teller machines may have been compromised to swipe customer information as they access the machines:
The lenders declined to say how much money had been stolen or how many accounts were skimmed, but an initial investigation by the banks indicated that cash machines were rigged with devices that stole customers' PINs as they made withdrawals.
Suvo Sarkar, general manager of retail banking at Emirates NBD told the Times Online that authorities still aren't sure how the account numbers and card PINs were nabbed:
Mr. Sakar said that the hackers were part of an international network, with most of the fraudulent transactions originating from more than 20 countries outside the UAE.
The banks affected include HSBC, Citibank, Lloyds TSB, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and Emirates NBD.
It's impossible to tell how the breach occurred. My bet, based on similar incidents that plagued U.S. banks earlier this decade -- before banks and retailers stopped systemically storing PINs -- is that a payment card processor or major retailer was successfully hacked.
Best action, just like passwords, is to periodically change them.
What steps do you take to mitigate yourself from such incidents? Or do you use the same password for the majority of Web sites you access, and do you use the same PIN number that you use to access your voice mail for all of your credit and bank cards? I hope not, because you're begging for trouble if you do.