THE same gang who stole €5,000 from Mary McAleese's husband, Martin, after copying his ATM card are believed to be behind the latest spate of skimming robberies at train station ticket machines in Dublin.
Two members of the gang, who are Roma gypsies, were caught by gardai and served jail terms for robbing Mr McAleese. The gang concentrate on using the skimming devices to copy bar codes on cash cards, along with mini-cameras to copy the PIN.
Two weeks ago, ATM skimmers were used at Booterstown and Dun Laoghaire DART stations in south Dublin to target travellers using bank and credit cards to buy tickets. Banks have tightened up security on their ATM machines, and the CIE ticket machines appear to be an easier target for the thieves.
At the same time, gardai are pursuing another Roma gang of two men and a woman with dyed blonde hair who are specifically targeting middle-aged women shoppers in Dublin city centre. They have carried out at least four "distraction" ATM robberies in the past two weeks and gardai are warning women in particular to be alert to being approached when they are using cash machines.
The gang surround their victims, and one man reaches to the ground and produces a €10 note and distracts the victim by asking if she has dropped the money. The blonde has already noted the pin number. The other robber then hits the "reject" button on the ATM and when the card slides out of the machine he steals it. They then use the card until it reaches its limit.
Gardai believe the gangs have begun a pre-Christmas tour of Ireland starting in Dublin and are making their way around the country to avoid detection. Images from CCTV at the Dublin city centre ATM and the DART stations have been circulated to stations around the country. The gangs followed similar patterns in previous years.
The targeting of train ticket machines has been commonplace in Europe in recent years but has only spread to Ireland, with its much more limited rail network, this year.
The same devices have been found in use as far away as South America in recent years as the gangs spread across the world in search of new territories.