ATM skimming gear busted by bank customer

Calgary police have arrested two Ontario men in what they described as a sophisticated operation targeting debit information at bank machines across Canada.

Calgary police allege suspects also carried out '72-hour crime spree' in Edmonton

Calgary police have arrested two Ontario men in what they described as a sophisticated operation targeting debit information at bank machines across Canada.

Police started investigating after a customer at a TD Canada Trust in the 3600 block of Brentwood Road N.W. noticed the machine he was using had parts that looked out of place.

Officers who responded discovered a fake panel, where one would normally insert a bank card, affixed to the machine with double-sided tape. On the other side of the panel was a microchip powered by a small battery.

Next to the machine, police found a tiny camera hidden in a side panel, which was installed to look like a privacy screen. The camera, similar to one found in a cellphone, was powered by a mobile phone battery and could also record audio, Calgary police spokesman Kevin Brookwell said Monday.

Police have charged Michael Joseph Stewart, 29, of Toronto and Hamilton Hillary Savoury, 45, of Scarborough, Ont., with two counts of possession of fraudulent credit card data and two counts of possession of a device for forging or falsifying credit cards.

Police arrested the pair as they were driving away from the bank, said Brookwell.

Data used to make fake debit cards

The men had just been in Edmonton in a "non-stop 72-hour crime spree" and were "in the process of a similar 72-hour spree in Calgary when they were apprehended," Brookwell alleged.

Police displayed the equipment seized at a news conference, explaining that four skimming devices had been installed on bank machines, one in each quadrant of the city.

A fake panel with a battery-powered microchip on the back was affixed to a Calgary bank machine to skim information from debit cards. ((CBC))

"By the time they got to the fourth quadrant of the city they would go back to the very first machine much like a trap line ... because the batteries in these devices have about an hour, hour-and-half capacity," Brookwell said.

The suspects would take the devices back to their hotel, "harvest" the information and load it into a laptop, he said. They would then synchronize each card's info with the PIN captured on the camera.

All the data would be sent back to an accomplice in Ontario where fraudulent bank cards would be made, alleged Brookwell. Those fake cards would then be used to withdraw large sums of money.

"So when they're doing this across Canada every day, you can see how much of an impact it has financially to the victims, which in these cases are the banks, and how easily this information can be compromised by these people," he said.

Skimming equipment found at same machine

Calgary investigators don't know at this point how many bank cards were compromised or how much money, if any, may have been stolen.

Brookwell advised the public to use the same bank machine if possible for their transactions so they have a higher likelihood of noticing something suspicious. Customers should also always cover the keypad when entering their PIN, he said.

In a strange twist, the same customer who first reported the suspicious equipment returned to the same branch a few days later and spotted another skimming machine. He reported it to police.

That incident is not believed to be related to the first case, said police who are investigating.