The top eight banks in Taiwan have been forced to shut down activity on hundreds of ATMs after a coordinated group of thieves used malware to steal NT$70 million ($2.17m) in cash. Bank of Taiwan, Chang Hwa Bank, First Bank and five other institutions have reportedly suspended transactions on 900 cash machines following a major theft by three suspects on 9-10 July.
Marking the first bank heist of its kind, two Russians stole NT$70 million worth of cash from automatic teller machines (ATM) and managed to flee the country on Monday.
The suspects had installed malware to trigger automatic cash disbursement on 34 First Bank ATMs in Taipei and Taichung.
The authorities believe the thieves exploited a weakness in the system and are not ruling out the possibility that bank insiders were involved. The suspects extracted cash without using bankcards or inappropriately operating the machines. The police, citing video footage and other evidence, said two suspects operated the machines while the other remained in the getaway vehicle.
Combining cybercrime with daylight robbery, the suspects may have used a cellphone to trigger 41 First Bank ATMs to dispense fat wads of bills, investigators said on Wednesday. In each case, the still-at-large suspects took the money and left quickly, filmed on close-circuit TV cameras.
The crime was only uncovered after the suspects left NT$60,000 worth of cash in a hurry after their suspicious behavior was noticed by a customer using an ATM at a local branch. First Bank was later notified by the police of the situation and discovered a NT$6 million loss at the branch's ATMs the next day.
The Russian nationals arrived at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Friday, July 8, rented a vehicle and then embarked on their illegal operation. Most of the heist was carried out in the next two days, before the suspects left the country on Monday, July 11.
Taiwan police, who are working with overseas authorities on the crime case, said the suspects did not make any international wire transfers during the heist.
The Financial Supervisory Commission, in the wake of the incident, said First Bank would have to shoulder all the losses and responsibility connected with the heist, and that it must conduct an internal security review to prevent such incidents from happening again.