Debit and credit card use is on the up in Bulgaria and ATMs, the cash-point machines first introduced some 20 years ago, are everywhere these days. This is exactly what some criminals are banking on. To avoid getting ripped off, you should not only take the conventional precautions associated with withdrawing money from a machine, but also be aware of the popular and often rather sophisticated scams that are operating.
Fraudsters generally target ATMs outside banks, stores and gas stations to avoid security guards and cameras. They favour older machines, which don't have cameras, and concentrate on cities and resorts frequented by tourists.
Scams are becoming more and more advanced. Bank fraud experts say that a “skimming” method is now used in 90 percent of cases. The skimmer is a data-capturing device that can be placed either in the machine's slot, in which case it is barely visible, or takes the shape of a thin transparent layer on the ATM keypad which looks like a cover to protect the keys. Once the crooks have the information from your bank card, they copy it onto a fake card. A tiny camera above the keypad gives them the PIN numbers they need to access the cash, anytime and anywhere. Skimming can be very tricky to detect – you may not notice anything is amiss until there is no money left in your account (unless you check it regularly, in which case you will find out sooner).
In another successful scam, the now outdated “Lebanese loop”, a card would stay arrested in the ATM, caught by tape similar to that
used in music cassettes. A friendly bystander would offer to help, ask the victim for the PIN and then pretend to try to retrieve the card. When the unsuspecting victim leaves, the criminal gets both the card and the PIN. In another version of the same scam, fraudsters would put up a hand-written notice saying that the machine was out of order, and give a telephone number to call for help. The person manning the phone would ask for the PIN number, promise to check the matter and consequently siphon the money out of the victim's account.
If your card has been kept in an ATM, and/or you have reason to believe that it has been copied, you should immediately call either the bank that issued your card or BORIKA, the national card operator, to have it cancelled and thus avoid losing any of your cash. Programme the emergency numbers into your mobile phone and be aware that phones in banks are not necessarily functional during non-working hours. BORIKA's emergency phone numbers: 8705149, 9707616, 9707623 operate around the clock. The bank that issued your card will only ask for your full name. BORIKA requires you to provide your card number as well.
In the case of a fraudulent withdrawal, the cardholder must notify the bank that issued the card. Opinions differ as to whether the police should also be contacted. Generally, it seems that a police investigation is clumsier and more time-consuming than the bank's. However, in the case of a robbery or other criminal activity, notifying the police is mandatory.
Unlike elsewhere, banks in Bulgaria do not automatically refund the money lost due to fraud. Step one is to inform the bank in writing giving all the details. Some banks have time limits for reporting an illegal transaction – up to 30, 40 or 45 days after the incident – so making a phone call in the first place may be important.
Under current legal regulations, cardholders in Bulgaria are liable for up to 300 leva of the damages incurred prior to reporting a lost or stolen card or an unauthorised transaction. If the losses exceed 300 leva, the bank that issued the card is to reimburse the money, but only if the fraud was not the result of an action or inaction on the part of the cardholder. Banks will take every opportunity to remind you that the cardholder is responsible for the card and all transactions made with it.
Banks have a certain time period, often seven or 10 days, in which to clarify the situation by carrying out their own investigation. This usually entails using footage from ATM security cameras, checking your history of transactions and so on. If your claim is rejected, you can make another one, this time with the help of a lawyer, who can provide legal arguments if the rejection was unlawful.
If you are not satisfied with the bank's final decision, you can take the matter to the Committee for Trade and Consumer Protection, or directly to the courts.
Safeguard your PIN. Do not write it down – memorise it and change it every now and then. Make sure that no one is watching you when you key-in your PIN. If there are people queuing behind you, cover the keypad with your free hand as you enter it. Do not use a cash machine if you see or feel that something is wrong. Do not call the “helpline” numbers on notices at cash machines, and do not accept help from passers-by. Genuine helplines will not ask you to disclose your PIN. Use cards with small limits at restaurants or stores that you do not regularly frequent.
According to bank experts, in an effort to protect customers from ATM frauds, many banks have already equipped their machines with anti-skimming devices and cameras. Some have also introduced a software programme that keeps track of ATM users' spending habits and flags unusual transactions, of which customers are duly informed. A number of banks offer an SMS security service whereby an SMS is sent to your mobile every time a transaction is made with your card. Customers are also advised to adopt weekly limits on their cards to reduce possible losses. Chip cards are the safest type of card as they cannot be copied. Check if your bank can issue you with one of these.