Bank emphasizes ‘system network not compromised’
A fraud alert was issued by First Hawaiian Bank for Saipan automated teller machine card holders after the bank identified automated teller machines, or ATMs, believed to be involved in a skimming incident which resulted in numerous unauthorized bank transactions on Monday—the first time that such an incident happened in the CNMI that could also have repercussions to other banks in the Commonwealth.
In a phone interview with Saipan Tribune, FHB executive vice president Chris Dods clarified that they were not “hacked.”
“We were not hacked, it is an ATM skimming,” Dods said.
“We apologize for this inconvenience. First Hawaiian Bank values and protects our customers’ information. None of our systems have been breached. This is a result of skimming operations on our ATMs,” he added.
Skimming is a method by which thieves steal card information with the use of technology or equipment, or skimmers, surreptitiously installed on ATMs.
According to FHB, both Chalan Laulau branch ATMs, located at Oleai Center along Beach Road, have been identified as involved in the ATM skimming incident with the window of exposure believed to be between March 12 and March 28.
“It is suspected that criminals used skimmer devices to capture data and then created cards that were sold and used for unauthorized transactions,” FHB said in a statement.
Dods said they found the skimmers and they were removed last March 29.
“We have them in custody,” Dods said, adding that they will work with the local Federal Bureau of Investigation.
As these skimmers can take information from cards that go through the machine, account holders from other banks—not necessarily FHB accounts—who used the ATMs involved may also be compromised.
“It doesn’t matter which bank, the card skimmer just copies the information on the card,” Dods said.
FHB advised customers to monitor their account statements and to notify their respective financial institution about any unauthorized transactions.
Dods said they will look into the footages of their security cameras to see who tampered with the ATMs.
Asked if they alerted their customers about the possibility of accounts being compromised even before the unauthorized transactions were made on Monday, Dods said they have advised customers in the past to raise awareness but not in relation to the specific incident.
‘System network not compromised’
FHB assured that their “system network” was not compromised.
“We want to assure our Saipan customers that First Hawaiian Bank’s system network was not compromised.” FHB chief banking officer Ray Ono said.
FHB said they take their customer privacy very seriously and will be reissuing cards for affected customers.
“Customers can also protect themselves by contacting us to change their PIN immediately. First Hawaiian Bank customers are not liable for fraudulent transactions on their accounts,” Ono said.
FHB stressed that customers will not be held liable for any unauthorized transactions and that accounts will be credited back as soon as possible.
“We’re processing all the claims that have come in now and they will be credited as soon as we determined the nature of the claim, that it actually is fraud, then get their money into the account as soon as possible,” Dods said.
Dods said they are still doing their investigations to determine how many customers and how much money is involved in the skimming incident.
He added that they will tighten their procedures to ensure further security of their ATMs
When asked by Saipan Tribune if they have received reports of affected customers and how they are being addressed, Bank of Guam said they are re-issuing new cards to certain customers.
“We are notifying our customers, cancelling their cards and re-issuing new cards,” BOG senior vice president and chief communications officer Jacqueline Marati said.
“We would like to take this opportunity to remind customers that a regular review of their accounts is urged, and that any irregular activity should be reported to their financial institution immediately,” she added.
Asked if measures will be taken to ensure that skimming activities will not happen to them, BOG said: “The bank already has controls in place and will always look for ways to improve them. While we are unable to divulge these actions for security reasons, we continue to be vigilant about our ATMs and other banking channels.”
Bank of Hawaii, on the other hand, told Saipan Tribune that only a small number of inquiries were made by their customers.
“We are continuing to assess the situation and have received only a small number of inquiries from our customers asking about the news reports of fraud activity,” BOH senior vice president and West Pacific regional manager Hobbs Lowson said.
“We are asking customers to monitor their accounts for any suspicious transaction activity and, if detected, report it to Bank of Hawaii’s call center at: 1-888-643-3888,” Lawson added.
Similarly, Lawson noted that their “customers will not be liable for fraudulent charges related to this situation.”