Faro police (PJ) are investigating widespread debit card fraud that has affected a number of residents across the Algarve.
It is believed that illegal withdrawals were made from cash points in various locations totalling between 15,000 and 20,000 euros last week.
Of the known cases, between four and five withdrawals were made in the Portimão area and at least one in Faro.
Over the past week, 15 cases were reported in Tavira and this number is expected to rise as the PJ believe the debit card details may have been copied up to two weeks ago.
Other illegal withdrawals were recorded in Albufeira and Vila do Bispo, the police are investigating reports that several failed attempts were made to withdraw money from multibanco machines using counterfeit cards after bona fide cards were cancelled.
In almost every case, the Sociedade Interbancária de Serviços (SIBS), the national banking network system, has raised the alarm on card misuse.
The banks and card owners are then contacted to verify whether any illegal activity has occurred. If there has been illicit activity of the cards, they are immediately cancelled.
Police believe that the cards were replicated using a similar method to cases in August in Alcobaça, north of Lisbon, where around 300 cards were cloned and 60,000 euros stolen. Microchips were placed in multibanco machines and the debit card details were recorded and stored on the chips.
The police believe that like the cases in August, microchips were placed in cash dispensers located in petrol stations because of the ease in which a chip can be installed undetected.
As part of the PJ investigation, card holders that have had money stolen from their bank accounts are being asked to name all the locations they may have withdrawn money in the past month in an effort to find the cash dispensers which may have been tampered with.
The PJ believe that since some of the victims of card fraud live in Tavira that one of the machines that have been tampered with could be located there as well.
Earlier this year, PJ arrested five individuals suspected of card fraud and confiscated at least 60 debit cards that had been replicated. Between April and September, it is estimated that around 250,000 euros has been stolen using cloned bank cards.
PJ are warning people not to use cash dispensers in petrol stations as much as possible and to opt for multibanco machines in or next to banks.
There is much more CCTV around banks and often the cash dispensers in petrol stations are left unattended.
At the time of going to press, no suspects had been arrested, but the Portimão PJ were minutes away from catching fraudsters in the act of withdrawing money at the weekend.
If you suspect your card has been used illegally or money is missing from your bank account, contact SIBS on 808 201 251.