The $1 million stolen in an ATM skimming scam has been spent in eight countries in the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States - with the police conceding the foreign fraudsters may have already left New Zealand.
Money was withdrawn from 500 bank accounts in the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand, the United States and South Africa in an illustration of how organised crime syndicates operate across borders.
Detectives are searching for two men who arrived in New Zealand this year and attached skimming devices to ANZ and National Bank machines in Parnell, Ponsonby, Takapuna and Howick.
The device, which looks as if it is part of the ATM, is placed over the slot where the bank card is inserted. The bank card details are collected from the magnetic strip and a small camera above the keyboard records the PIN.
The stolen data can be transmitted wirelessly to the fraudsters, then emailed to associates overseas. The bank information is then on-sold to other criminal groups around the world, who create counterfeit cards and withdraw the cash overseas.
The $1 million is by far the most stolen in a New Zealand skimming scam, with similar cases over the past six years involving conmen from Russia, Romania, Canada and Malaysia.
All the 500 bank customers who lost money have been reimbursed. An ANZ spokesman said all ATMs are fitted with anti-skimming devices and fraud protection software which monitors live transactions around the globe.
"Unfortunately, this is a game of cat and mouse. As fast as ATM manufacturers and banks come up with ways to prevent this happening, the fraudsters come up with ways to overcome those measures."
The Auckland police financial crime unit is searching for the two men caught on security cameras but so far the efforts have been fruitless.
Detective Paul Micheletti conceded the fraudsters may have left New Zealand before the scam was noticed.
If so, the case would be similar to the first skimming attack in New Zealand six years ago. A Russian couple, claiming to be Canadians, targeted six Bank of New Zealand ATMs in Auckland in February 2006 and were successful in stealing $100,000. The pair skipped the country before the first photo of the blonde woman and her balding partner was released publicly.
Since then, international crime syndicates have increasingly targeted New Zealand as a place to harvest bank or credit card details.
In a separate case this year, more than $150,000 was taken via ATM machines in Canada from the accounts of about 700 New Zealanders in a scam involving "corrupted" eftpos keypads.
The stolen pads were altered and placed in other stores where they recorded the magnetic strips on eftpos cards and the personal identification numbers used to access accounts. Those details were then transmitted overseas and used to make cloned cards for withdrawals in Montreal.
Four Canadian-based men are in custody on charges of participating in an organised criminal group and dishonestly obtaining keypads.
Two other suspected card skimmers were stopped yesterday from entering the country. The eastern European men were intercepted when they arrived in Auckland on a flight from China. Authorities confiscated electronic equipment they were carrying.
Anyone who can provide information about suspected skimmers should contact Detective Paul Micheletti on 09- 302-6973 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111.
Where the cash was withdrawn
* Dominican Republic
* United States
* South Africa.