UK brothers sentenced for making fake credit, debit cards

The trio's sentences come after the UK hit a five-year high for counterfeit card fraud last year

Three brothers were sentenced to prison on Tuesday in a London court for creating counterfeit credit and debit cards, defrauding victims of more than £600,000 (US$978,000), according to the Metropolitan Police.

The trio used the fake cards to withdraw large amounts of money from U.K. cash machines, buy designer clothing and aftershave as well as making purchases from 24-hour self-service petrol stations, the Met and City Police's Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit said.

All three pleaded guilty to one charge each of conspiracy to defraud. Ahmed Charmaga, 25, received four and a half years; Mahmoud Charmaga, 23, received five years and Mohammed Charmaga, 28, received two years and eight months.

The brothers' sentences comes as the U.K. last year saw its highest level of counterfeit card fraud in five years. Fake card fraud jumped 18 percent in 2008 over 2007, amounting to £169.8 million, according to APACS, the U.K. payment card trade association.

Last November, police seized from the brother's greater London office "skimmers," or pieces of equipment that are attached to the front of an ATM machine that record a card's magnetic stripe information.

The stripe contains account information that can then be copied to a dummy card, and, if the perpetrators know the person's PIN (personal identification number), can be used to withdraw money.

Police also confiscated a card reader and writer, used to create dummy cards. Other equipment the trio used included fake ATM fronts and keypads to steal PINs as well as an embossing press to make fake cards.

During the raid, police found 600 counterfeit cards ready to be used and a total of 3,419 card details on laptops and documents.

In order to steal PINs and magnetic stripe details, the fraudsters often must physically attach equipment to the ATM. Many ATMs now have warning stickers asking customers to be alert if the machine looks like it has been tampered with.

In the U.K. and throughout Europe, banks issue so-called chip-and-PIN credit and debit cards, which have a microchip.

The microchip is used to confirm a person's PIN during point-of-sale purchases, and ATMs confirm the presence of the chip in order to carry out transactions.

As a result, many fraudsters who capture details from chip-and-PIN card will create dummy ones and use them overseas in places such as the U.S., where ATMs do not confirm the presence of the chip.

However, some ATMs will read account data off a card's magnetic strip if the chip isn't working. It is not believed that criminals have been able to clone microchips yet.

Efforts to reach police investigators were not immediately successful.

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