DOZENS of Wiganers have been fleeced of their savings by a hi-tech hole-in-the-wall scam, we can reveal.
ATM users at a number of borough locations are said to have unwittingly had their debit cards cloned after con artists rigged the machines.
In order not to draw attention to themselves, the thieves appear to be making relatively small withdrawals of a few dozen pounds from one or more stores using the copied cards, and then discarding them.
Victims are only discovering the thefts from their accounts some time later, for instance when they scrutinise bank statements. One man discovered that £140 had been spent on petrol in Bury; another resident lost a similar amount on a shopping spree in New York.
And some of the gang’s victims will not have yet realised that money has gone.
Shevington resident Derek Lowe, 68, a former oil industry worker, says it was only down to his wife Hazel’s eagle eye that anything amiss was spotted. He said: “She was reading the latest statement and said ‘I didn’t know you’d been to Warrington, to which I replied ‘I’ve not; I’ve not been there in 15 years.’
“But looking on the statement there were two withdrawals, one from Marks and Spencer and one from Iceland. We went straight down to the Halifax in Wigan town centre, and hardly had we opened our mouths than we were told that we weren’t the only ones.
“They asked me if I had withdrawn money from the cash machine outside Shevington post office on Gathurst Lane, and yes I had, on October 31.
“It seemed that thieves had used some gadget to clone my card. The copy was then used on November 4 to buy something for £6, plus £50 cash back from Iceland, and then something cheap from M&S, plus £30 cash back. They were the only two dodgy transactions, and the bank said that the copy was probably then ditched.
“We have certainly not been the only people done. I went round and told a few neighbours about what had happened, and one of them said he had lost £140 from some petrol purchase in Bury.
“Our card was immediately seized and destroyed by the bank, and I have a form to fill in to get my money back. But I do feel angry that my privacy has been invaded and money stolen by unscrupulous people. People need to be warned that this kind of thing is going on.”
Shevington Post Office owner Aftab Sabir said: “We were shocked and dismayed that this had happened outside our shop. It’s not our machine – it belongs to the Bank of Ireland – but it is still upsetting.
“It was only when an engineer came to give it a check-up that anything was noticed. He said that customers wouldn’t have realised there was anything wrong. The thieves have apparently chiselled out the entire fittings, and replaced them with something that is identical, but has been doctored. We are a small village and word travels fast, and we have heard of a lot of similar incidents happening at other machines including Appley Bridge, Kitt Green and Burscough.”
Mr Sabir said that the machine outside his shop was now safe to use, staff were making checks on it twice every day, and that new, improved technology was being installed very soon.