The National Police in Ciutadella have smashed a gang of Eastern European criminals which has been cracking in to people's bank accounts via automatic cash machines. Ciutadella's National Police chief said yesterday that a total of five people are being held and will today appear before a preliminary hearing. The five Eastern Europeans, four of whom are Romanian, have been under police surveillance for the past two weeks, when their criminal activities were first brought to the police's attention. Two of the suspects had apparently tried to withdraw money from an automatic cash dispenser with a stolen credit card, but the machine retained the card - which the gang had used previously to withdraw money. The gang's “modus operandi” was a crafty one. First, the gang would either demagnetise the credit card slot or block the machine, so that the next client would lose his or her card. The unsuspecting client would then be approached by a member of the gang offering assistance. The client would be encouraged to try and withdraw the card again by punching in the secret number - which would be taken down by the “helpful member of the public,” knowing full well that the client would not be able to recuperate his or her credit card and would eventually give up, leaving the card in the machine which the criminals would subsequently recover and, armed with the secret code, use to withdraw money. Police launched their operation by intensifying surveillance of cash machines and eventually managed to locate the gang of Eastern Europeans, the first of whom was arrested on June 19 when he tried to use a stolen German credit card at a bank in Cala en Bosc.

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