‘Flash Hijacks’ Add New Twist to Muggings

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A frequent crime in Brazil is a scheme in which thieves kidnap people as they’re leaving a bank, and free them only after visiting a number of ATMs to withdraw cash. Now the crooks have introduced a new time-saving wrinkle into this scam: In these so-called “flash hijacks” the thieves pull out a wireless card reader, swipe a few debit transactions with the victim’s card, and then release the individual.

A story in the Brazilian newspaper Liberal documents one such recent flash hijacking, involving two musicians in their 20s who were accosted by a pair of robbers — one of whom was carrying a gun. The thieves forced the victims to divulge their debit card personal identification numbers (PINs), and then proceeded to swipe the victim’s cards on a handheld, wireless card machine.

First spotted in 2015, flash hijackings are becoming more common in Brazil, said Paulo Brito, a cybersecurity expert living in the Campinas area of Brazil. Brito said even his friend’s son was similarly victimized recently.

“Of course transactions can be traced as far as they are done with Brazilian banks, but these bad guys can evolve and transact with foreign banks,” Brito said.

I suppose it’s slightly less traumatic for the victim if the use of handheld machines by the crooks mean victims have a gun to their heads for a shorter duration. It’s also nice that the thieves are bringing the theft to the victim, instead of the other way around.

In any case, these attacks underscore a major point I try to make when adding updates to my All About Skimmers series: Most of us are far more likely to get mugged after withdrawing money from an ATM or bank than we are to encounter a skimming device in real life.

The most important security advice is to watch out for your own physical safety while using an ATM. Keep your wits about you as you transact in and leave the area, and try to be keenly aware of your immediate surroundings. Use only machines in public, well-lit areas, and avoid ATMs in secluded spots. Also, cover the PIN pad with your hand when entering your PIN: That way, if even if the thieves somehow skim your card, there is less chance that they will be able to snag your PIN as well.

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