A Hong Kong man has been arrested for allegedly stealing mail containing new credit cards and passwords, removing the chips and fixing them to bogus cards to withdraw cash from ATMs over the past 18 months.
He glued dummy chips onto the stolen cards, returned them to the letters, and placed them in the letterboxes of the owners who did not notice the switch, police said on Wednesday. The owners then activated the cards.
Between May 2019 and last month, police received 14 reports of this kind of theft involving around HK$320,000 (US$41,280) in total in Sau Mau Ping.
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A police source said HK$10,000 or HK$20,000 was usually withdrawn from the credit card accounts of the victims in each incident, with the biggest case involving HK$40,000.
“To hide his identity, the man used something to cover security cameras while withdrawing money from automated teller machines,” he said.
The source said the victims did not realise the genuine chips had been removed from their bank cards. “The tactic was discovered several months later after the cards were sent back to their respective banks for inspection,” he said.
Inspector Poon Sung-lai of the Sau Mau Ping district crime squad said investigations showed the suspect targeted residential blocks with lax security to steal letters containing credit cards and passwords from letterboxes.
He said the card owners only became aware of the cash withdrawals after being notified by banks.
After an in-depth investigation, the crime squad officers identified a 49-year-old unemployed man in connection with the cases.
Around 5pm on Tuesday, the suspect was arrested when he used a bogus card to withdraw money from an ATM in Ngau Tau Kok.
In a follow-up raid, police seized 28 chips and several bank and membership cards in his home along with three Hong Kong identity cards that had been reported stolen.
Police believe the suspect was linked to all 14 cases and acted alone.
Noting the tactic was “rare” in the city, Chief Inspector Ma Ling-ho said investigations showed the suspect used tools to swap genuine chips with fake ones, but declined to give further details.
He also appealed to the public to be vigilant, saying that “when receiving a new credit card, they should check if the envelope or chip on the card had been tampered with”.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the suspect was still being held for questioning.
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