'Jackpotting' hackers stole $267,000 from Western Washington banks

PORTLAND, Ore. -- An investigation has uncovered financial hackers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks in the Pacific Northwest as part of a new scam effort spreading nationwide, FOX 12 reports.

Unlike other “hands-on” thefts - like the use of skimmers or ATM machines yanked out of buildings - the new way of getting quick cash is not so noticeable. Hackers are getting inside ATM computers and forcing the machines to release hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash on the spot, just like a casino slot machine.

The new scam is called “jackpotting”, and it has been hitting banks and credit unions across the U.S. over the past year. According to a U.S. Secret Service bulletin sent out earlier this year, the attacks are likely tied to international crime. The notice also said hackers have already stolen more than a million dollars from machines across the country.

FOX 12 uncovered more than a quarter of a million dollars in cash was stolen from machines in western Washington last December -- including $88,000 in Bothell, more than $64,000 in Mount Vernon and $115,000 from three banks in Vancouver.

"Fraudsters will actually come in and take over your ATM and take all of the money out of it,” said Brian Alfano with Unitus Community Credit Union. "We are literally battling on a day to day basis to keep our member's information safe."

Alfano said Unitus has not been one of the banks targeted by the new scam yet. But, they are investing in technology to combat possible hacking heists - where suspects often act alone.

"What we've seen is criminals dressing up as technicians, and accessing these machines after hours,” said fraud expert Jason Thomas with Portland-based Cook Security Group. "They can go in and basically install software. We've seen them take the approach of drilling holes inside around the cabinet of an ATM just to gain access with medical-grade equipment to disconnect that hardware inside the ATM and connect their own hardware."

Thomas said his security company has recently patented a system designed to catch jackpotting thieves before the act. The technology uses a combination of surveillance cameras, hardware inside ATMs and software using both analytics and algorithms to detect suspicious activity. Think of their system like the "Ring" doorbell: It detects specific movement around the machines and triggers an alert that's then sent to banks, including a video clip and details where and when the possible crime is happening.

Cook’s security monitors can also remotely temporarily disable an ATM.

Unitus is currently piloting the new technology. They told FOX 12 it's working.

"We've found instances where we've seen people hovering in front of our ATM not wanting to do good things to it,” Alfano said.

Cook Security Group says their technology is constantly being updated to stop “jackpotters”.

"It's the same thing as any robber even from the beginning of time. The quickest way I can get a buck, and the easiest way I can get a buck - this is one of the ways that they can do it unfortunately," said Alfano.

According to a criminal indictment obtained by FOX 12, the very same suspects charged with targeting banks in Vancouver were busted for also jackpotting tens of thousands of dollars in Utah.

A criminal indictment shows the suspects are all Venezuelan nationals and were temporarily visiting the U.S. They are set to go on trial October 26.