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Police from three Tokyo-area prefectures on Wednesday arrested seven suspected members of a ring of thieves who allegedly took at least 300 million yen from private bank accounts using stolen cash card information, investigators said.

Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa police, in their first crackdown on cash card information theft, searched a golf course north of Tokyo earlier in the day for evidence and questioned other suspects, including Japanese and Chinese nationals, they said.

Those questioned include the 51-year-old manager of Lakewood Golf Club, Tomioka Course, in Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture. Police suspect that someone in the prestigious links may have had a hand in the thefts, they said.

Police suspect that personal information was stolen from cash cards kept in the club’s security lockers and subsequently used to create forged cards, they said.

They received a number of complaints from the club’s clients last fall, who claimed that cash had been withdrawn from their bank accounts even though they hadn’t lost their cash cards.

The seven arrested Wednesday include the suspected ring leader — a Kanagawa Prefecture resident with links to the underworld.

The Metropolitan Police Department has obtained warrants for about 10 more people, according to the investigators. The National Police Agency believes the group is highly organized and run by a leader who distributes the various roles involved — stealing, skimming, withdrawals — to the individual members.

Police said at least 300 million yen has been stolen and total damages may reach 1 billion yen.

They suspect the group set up cameras above lockers to steal security codes for each unit and took the clients’ cash cards.

The group then skimmed personal information from the cards using portable equipment while the clients were playing golf, and created forged cards with the information, the investigators said.

The group apparently had little trouble withdrawing money from the bank with the forged cards, because the personal identification numbers were often identical to the security codes for the lockers, they said.

The original cards were returned to the clients’ wallets before they returned to the locker room, and many of the victims found that their money had been withdrawn only when they used automated teller machines later on, according to police.

The number of incidents in which forged cards were used to withdraw cash from bank accounts has sharply increased over the past few years, due to the development of technologically advanced cameras, according to police and the banking industry.

The government is reportedly mulling legislation that would oblige the banks, instead of depositors, to bear the losses from the use of forged cards.

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