Palau Customs Officer Intercepts ATM Skimming Device

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Potential theft of banking information prevented

By L. N. Reklai

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, April 28, 2016) – A possible theft of personal banking information from ATMs in Palau was averted, when an attentive and well-trained Border and Customs officers detected an ATM card skimming devise hidden inside a DVD player in package to be delivered to a visitor to Palau.

A Fed Ex package was received by Customs Office at the Palau International Airport. It originated from Indonesia and addressed to a non-resident female who supposedly was staying at a local hotel.

Customs Officer Nixon Rdiallul, upon inspection of the package, noticed a plastic sticking out of the DVD player that did not look like a normal part of the product. On a look out for drugs, the DVD player was opened for further inspection. "The DVD player was empty, with no motor unit. It instead contained wires and plastics," says Customs Officer Foti Cooper. "Our guys thought these were parts of a bomb making devise and brought it for further inspection. I recognized it from our previous trainings that it may have something to do with bank machines. We called the police Director Aguon and met with Financial Investigations Unit," he added.

"They brought the package here and we immediately identified it as an ATM skimming device. We contacted the FBI in Saipan because of the recent incident of ATM skimming in Saipan and compared notes," stated Nelson Werner of the FIU.

Managers of local banks were also alerted and called to identify the item and they all agreed that it was ATM skimming devise. The devise also had different fittings to fit different ATMS in Palau. "Those guys are doing an amazing job!" declared Matthew Cruz of Bank of Guam Branch, of the Customs officers. "It is such a small unassuming item but they caught it! Saipan did not catch it until after they have been impacted," added Cruz.

A team from Customs Office and Drug Taskforce arranged for a control drop of the package. The lady Maria Marisa, a Romanian passport holder, to whom the packaged was address, refused to accept the package. The lady and male companion, also a Romanian passport holder were interviewed extensively and both denied any knowledge of the package.

With not enough evidence to charge the lady and her companion, no arrest was made and the suspects departed Palau on April 27, 2016. The woman of interest, according to Immigration records, had been to Palau before. "In her first trip to Palau, she came through Guam right after the Saipan incident," stated Werner of FIU.

"We are in direct communication with the FIU offices in Manila, Indonesia, Italy and Romania as well as the FBI on this matter," said Werner. "The couples were not charged but any information we have on them including passport information, have been shared with relevant agencies," he added.

Early this month, First Hawaiian Bank in Saipan was targeted by card skimming devises. These devises are connected to ATM machines and collect the bank data and PIN numbers from people’s ATM or credit cards when people use ATM. Information may be sold or used by others.

"Now that we know what this is, our officers are on high alert," stated Customs Officer Foti Cooper.

"We are very lucky we caught this before they were able to use it. A lot of people could have been affected," added Werner.

FIU press release urged the community to be mindful of the ATM card skimming threat and notify your bank or law enforcement personnel if anything suspicious with their local bank ATMs.

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