ATM security alert as Microsoft prepares to kill off Windows XP

  • Microsoft to cease support for Windows XP on April 8th
  • Experts believe only 95% of ATMs run the software
  • Could leave machines vulnerable to hackers

By Mark Prigg

PUBLISHED:          19:42 EST, 17 January 2014

Cashpoints around the world could be left vulnerable to hacker attacks.

It is believed millions are still running Microsoft’s Windows XP, first introduced 13 years ago.

However, on April 8th, Microsoft will stop issuing securoty updates, in a bid to get people to upgrade.

Bill Gates at the Microsoft XP launch in New York October 25, 2001: The firm will finally stop supporting the software on April 8th.

Bill Gates at the Microsoft XP launch in New York October 25, 2001: The firm will finally stop supporting the software on April 8th.



Cumbersome and slow cash machines with clunky buttons and tiny hard-to-see screens could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a range of next-generation ATMs. Continue reading “ATM security alert as Microsoft prepares to kill off Windows XP”

Middle class poverty, USA: Women forced to sell their own hair, breast milk and eggs to make ends meet as economic recovery fails to raise wages

  • The top Google results for ‘I want to  sell my…’ have been ‘kidney,’ ‘eggs’ and ‘hair’ since 2011
  • Websites have sprung up that allow women  to post their hair and breast milk for sale online
  • Long locks of hair can fetch up to  $1,500
  • Breast milk can sell for $5 an ounce  online
  • Egg donations nets up to  $8,000

By  Michael Zennie

PUBLISHED: 18:25 EST, 15  October 2013 |  UPDATED: 18:31 EST, 15 October 2013

Thousands of women across the country are  turning their bodies into ATMs, selling their hair, eggs and even their breast  milk to make ends meet as the economic recovery fails to bring wages and job  opportunities back to pre-recession levels.

Many of the women who are auctioning off  pieces of themselves are middle-class mothers who are struggling to maintain the  same standard of living for their children five years after the biggest economic  crash since the Great Depression.

Online market places have sprung up, making  it easy for women to make up to $1,500 selling their locks and $5 an ounce for  breast milk.

Online marketplaces like Only the Breast have sprung up to allow women to sell their breast milk for up to $5 an ounce 

Online marketplaces like Only the Breast have sprung up  to allow women to sell their breast milk for up to $5 an ounce


The site features hundreds of women, and a few men, who want to sell their locks 

The site features hundreds of women,  and a few men, who want to sell their locks


Selling eggs, which is a much more  complicated and intrusive process, can net up to $8,000 per donation.

Bloomberg reports that since 2011, the top Google auto-completion results for ‘I want to  sell my…’ have included ‘hair,’ ‘eggs’ and ‘kidney.’

Google’s fill-in results reflect the most  popular searches by Google users.

‘The fact that people even explore it  indicates that there are still a lot of people worried about their financial  outlook,’ Nicholas Colas, who tracks economic indicators for ConvergEx Group,  told Bloomberg.

‘This is very much unlike every other  recovery that we’ve had. It’s going to be a slow-grinding, very frustrating  recovery.’

Selling kidneys is illegal in the United  States, though evidence suggests that black market organ sales exist. A  University of Chicago study suggested that kidneys could be worth more than  $15,200 each, if sales were legalized.

Egg donation, which is much more complicated and requires several trips to donation clinics, can bring $8,000 per donation 

Egg donation, which is much more complicated and  requires several trips to donation clinics, can bring $8,000 per  donation


April Hare, a 35-year-old mother of two who  has been out of work for two years, resorted to selling 18 inches of her auburn  hair to help support her family.

She told Bloomberg she cut off her long locks  and posted them on the website for $1,000.

She had several responses within hours.

Hare, who has a four-month-old son and a  seven-year-old daughter, said she is also looking into selling her breast milk.  A similar site,, allows mothers to list their milk for sale  online. It can go for up to $5 an ounce.

‘These are tough times. The rich are getting  richer and everybody else is losing their jobs and their homes. It’s just  terrible,’ she said.

She previously worked as a sales manager  before losing her job in 2011.

Bridie MacDonald, from the wealthy Detroit  suburb of Farmington Hills, Michigan, cut off her red locks and posted them  online for $1,500 after she lost her job last month.

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Easily picked CD-ROM drive locks let Mexican banditos nick ATM cash


Who needs an inside man when you’ve got a boot disc?

By       John Leyden

        11th October 2013 15:12 GMT      

Lax security at Mexican banks has allowed cybercriminals to put their own malware-ridden CDs into ATM machines in order to gain control of the easily-compromised cash machines.

The Ploutus malware was installed after “criminals acquired access to the ATM’s CD-ROM drive and inserted a new boot CD into it”. The ruse was possible because many ATMs in Mexico use a simple lock that is easily picked, allowing the attackers to gain physical access to the machines.

Attacks involving getting malware onto ATMs are rare but far from unprecedented. Normally all sorts of trickery is necessary before being able to get a trojan onto a target machine.

Malware-based ATM scams have previously involved using corrupt insiders to infect hole-in-the-wall machines. Learning how an ATM machine works by posing as an repair technician is also unnecessary thanks to Ploutus. You don’t need a genius security researcher to develop a fiendishly cunning ATM attack, either.

Schoolboy errors made the self-service ATM-pwning tactic all too easy for Mexican crooks. The extent of the resulting scam – either in terms of how much money was lost or how many machines were infected – remains unclear. However details of how the malware itself works are fairly well understood.

Information security firm Trustwave has completed an analysis of the malware after obtaining samples of the malicious code. Infected machines still carry out their normal functions of dispensing cash. But if a particular key combination is input into the compromised device, the attacker will be presented with a hidden GUI, written in Spanish, complete with drop-down menus apparently designed for a touch screen.

Once crooks input a passcode – derived from a fixed four digit PIN combined with the figures for the date and month – they obtain the ability to dispense money from the compromised ATM.

“If you are a bank or the owner/operator of ATMs in Mexico, you will want to examine your machines for evidence of tampering,” advises Josh Grunzweig, an ethical hacker in TrustWave’s SpiderLabs team. “Banks and ATM owner/operators outside of Mexico could also benefit from an inspection of their ATMs.”

“Examples of targeted malware like Ploutus serve as a reminder of the importance of a thorough security review of ATMs and the back-end systems connected to them,” he added.

Grunzweig has put together a blog post explaining how the malware works – containing code snippets and a screenshot of the GUI cybercrooks are able to feast their eyes upon once the malware is installed on compromised cash machines – here.

This is ATM fraud without recourse to skimmers to harvest the card details of consumers or other more complex approaches. So far Ploutus-based attacks were targeted against ATMs at off-premise locations, according to self-service device information security software developer SafenSoft.

“The emergence of new malware with ability to directly extract cash from ATMs is a very alarming sign for self-service device security,” Stanislav Shevchenko, chief technology officer at SafenSoft, warns. “Malware like this allows the cybercriminals to skip the whole process of cash withdrawal they have to take part in after using traditional ATM trojans and skimmer-like devices to steal the plastic card information.

“Additionally, by spreading malware like that criminals can easily bypass the traditional antivirus-based protection on the ATMs. If that trojan gets massively distributed any bank without specialised protection software on its ATMs will have hard times ahead,” he added. ®

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Hacker found dead just days before he was due to demonstrate how to kill someone fitted with a pacemaker at conference

  • Barnaby Jack had said he could kill a person from 30 feet by using the  hack
  • Gained infamy after demonstrating how to  hack cash machines

By  David Gardner

PUBLISHED: 10:03 EST, 26  July 2013 |  UPDATED: 20:09 EST, 26 July 2013

Mystery surrounds the death of a celebrated  computer hacker who claimed to know how to remotely kill someone fitted with a  heart pacemaker – as happened in the fictional TV spy drama Homeland.

Barnaby Jack died in San Francisco on  Thursday, just days before he was due to give a speech revealing how implanted  heart devices were at risk from fatal hacking attacks.

The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office  confirmed the death last night but did not give any  further  details.

Barnaby Jack twitter Profile imageBarnaby Jack demonstrates an attack on two automated teller machines

Mystery: The cause of Barnaby Jack’s death is currently  unknown. He gained notoriety after demonstrating how to hack into ATMs (pictured  right)

New Zealand-born Jack, 35, was scheduled to  be one of the star guests at the Black Hat hacking convention in Las Vegas next  week.

In a presentation called Hacking Humans, he  was planning to highlight the shortcomings of commonly used pacemaker machines  by demonstrating how he could hack into them and kill the heart patient from  50ft away with a deadly power surge triggered by a wireless  transmitter.

An episode of the acclaimed US series  Homeland, starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, showed a terrorist using a  computer to hack into the Vice-President’s pacemaker and speed up his heartbeat  until it kills him.

In Homeland, the killer needed the serial  number of the pacemaker, but Jack argued that in real life it was even simpler  and knowing the code was not necessary.

In a recent blog, he said: ‘The only  implausible aspect of the hack was the range in which the attack was carried  out.

‘The attacker would have had to be in the  same building or have a transmitter set up closer to the target. With that said,  the scenario was not too far-fetched.’

He said some pacemakers could be commanded to  deliver a deadly 830-volt shock from someone on a laptop up to 50ft away, the  result of poor software programming by medical device companies.

Barnaby Jack had claimed he had developed a technique for hacking pacemakers (file photograph) 

Barnaby Jack had claimed he had developed a technique  for hacking pacemakers (file photograph)

Jack claimed it was possible to infect the  pacemaker companies’ servers with a bug that would spread through their system  like a virus.

‘We are potentially looking at a worm with  the ability to commit mass murder,’ he added. ‘It’s kind of scary.’

The possibility of such attacks is being  taken so seriously by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it has  asked manufacturers to ensure greater protection for newer pacemakers which use  wireless technology.

Jack became one of the world’s most famous  hackers after a 2010 demonstration of ‘Jackpotting’ – getting cash machines to  spew out money.

At the time of his death, Jack was director  of embedded-device security for Seattle information-security firm IOActive.

The company said in a tweet: ‘Lost but never  forgotten, our beloved pirate, Barnaby Jack, has passed.’

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Gang stole $45m from cash machines across globe in hours, say prosecutors

‘Virtual criminal flash mob’ used bogus swipe cards loaded with data from hacked bank databases to commit thousands of thefts

  •  Associated Press in New York
  •,    Friday 10 May 2013 05.38 EDT
cash machine theft

Seven people are being held in connection with a case US prosecutors describe as a ‘massive 21st-century bank heist’. Photograph: Gene J Puskar/AP

A gang of criminals stole $45m (£29m) in a matter of hours by hacking their way into a database of prepaid debit cards and then draining cash machines around the globe, US prosecutors have said.

Seven people were being held on Thursday in connection with the case, which prosecutors said involved thousands of thefts from machines using bogus magnetic swipe cards carrying information from Middle Eastern banks. The fraudsters moved quickly, working in cells to loot financial institutions around the world.

US attorney Loretta Lynch called it “a massive 21st-century bank heist”.

One of the suspects was caught on surveillance cameras, his backpack  loaded down with cash, authorities said. Others took photographs of themselves with giant wads of notes as they made their way up and down Manhattan.

Here’s how it worked:

Hackers got into bank databases, eliminated withdrawal limits on prepaid debit cards and created access codes. Others loaded that data on to any plastic card with a magnetic stripe – old hotel key card or expired credit card worked fine as long as they carried the account data and correct access codes.

A network of operatives then fanned out to rapidly withdraw money in multiple cities, authorities said. The cells would take a cut of the money, then launder it through expensive purchases or ship it wholesale to the global ringleaders.

It appears no individuals lost money. The thieves plundered funds held by the banks that back up prepaid credit cards, not individual or business accounts, Lynch said.

She called it a “virtual criminal flash mob”, and a security analyst said it was the biggest cash machine fraud case she had heard of.

There were two separate attacks, one in December that reaped $5m (£3.2m) worldwide and another in February that brought in about $40m in 10 hours in about 36,000 transactions. The scheme involved attacks on two banks, Rakbank in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman, prosecutors said.

The plundered machines were in Japan, Russia, Romania, Egypt, Colombia, Britain, Sri Lanka, Canada and several other countries. Law enforcement agencies from more than a dozen countries were involved in the investigation.

The accused ringleader in the US cell, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, was reportedly killed in the Dominican Republic late last month, prosecutors said.

An indictment accused him and the other seven New York suspects of withdrawing $2.8m in cash from hacked accounts in less than a day.

Such cash machine fraud schemes are not uncommon.

Some of the fault lies with the ubiquitous magnetic strips on the back of the cards. Much of the world has abandoned them in favour of chip and pin cards. But because US banks and merchants have stuck to cards with magnetic strips, they are still accepted around the world.

Lynch would not say who masterminded the attacks globally, who the hackers are or where they were located, citing an ongoing investigation.

Lajud-Pena was found dead with a suitcase full of about $100,000 in cash. Dominican officials said they arrested a man in the killing who said it was a botched robbery. front:network-front main-3 Main trailblock:Network front – main trailblock:Position2

Honor among (credit card) thieves?

Published: April 22, 2013

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949, Thomas Holt Criminal Justice office: (517) 353-9563

A Michigan State University criminologist dug into the seamy underbelly of online credit card theft and uncovered a surprisingly sophisticated network of crooks that is unique in the cybercrime domain.

The thieves, Thomas Holt found, run an online marketplace for stolen credit data similar to eBay or Amazon where reputations drive sales. Thieves sell data and money laundering services, advertised via web forums, and send and receive payments electronically or through an intermediary. They even provide feedback on transactions to help weed out sellers who cannot be trusted to deliver the illegal goods.

Holt’s study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, is published in the research journal Global Crime.

“These aren’t just 15-year-olds stealing credit card info online and using it to buy pornography,” said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice. “These are thieves who come to trust one another. There’s a layer of sophistication here that can’t be understated, that’s very different than what we think about with other forms of crime.”

First, credit card information is stolen from an individual or group. Tactics can include hacking into the database of a bank, retailer or other service provider; sending emails to consumers masquerading as a bank to acquire sensitive details such as usernames and passwords (called phishing); and skimming. Examples of skimming include attaching a hard-to-spot device on an ATM machine or a crooked waiter who wears an electronic belt that can capture a card’s details.

The thief then advertises his haul in an online forum, with details such as card type, country of origin and asking price. Holt said a Visa Classic card, for example, might go for $5 to $20 per card, with a price discount for buying large amounts of data.

The winning buyer finalizes the deal online and sends the money through an electronic payment service. If the seller isn’t known or trusted, a middleman, called a guarantor, is used to assure the data is good before payment is sent – minus a fee.

For the buyers, there is any number of illicit service providers to then help them make purchases in a way that doesn’t raise suspicion or to pull money directly from the accounts – minus a fee.

All of this is done in a rather democratic fashion – unlike, say, the hierarchical structure of the mafia, said Holt, who monitored two English-language and two Russian-language forums for the study.

Some policymakers have called for flooding the online forums with bogus comments in an attempt to build mistrust and bring them down. But Holt said this strategy won’t necessarily work for organized forums with managers who can monitor and remove comments as in the forums he sampled.

A better strategy, he said, might be for law enforcement authorities to infiltrate the sophisticated networks with a long-term undercover operation. It’s a challenge, but one that might be more effective than other strategies called for by researchers.

South Korea on alert for cyber-attacks after major network goes down

Computer systems of banks and broadcasters are interrupted, with fingers immediately pointed at North Korea

    • Tania Branigan in Beijing

      ◦, Wednesday 20 March 2013 06.00 EDT

South Korea is investigating a suspected cyber-attack that paralysed systems at major media and banks on Wednesday, amid speculation that the North could be responsible.

The computer networks of three broadcasters – KBS, MBC and YTN – and two banks, Shinhan and Nonghyup, froze at around 2pm local time. Shinhan said its ATMs, payment terminals and mobile banking in the South were affected. TV broadcasts were not affected.

Warnings reportedly appeared on some computer screens from a previously unknown group calling itself the “WhoisTeam”, showing skulls and a message stating it was only the beginning of “our movement”.

A presidential aide said it had not been determined whether North Korea was involved, state news agency Yonhap reported.

The South’s communications watchdog raised its alert level on cyber-attacks to level three on a five-tier scale, tripling the number of staff monitoring the situation.

A police official told Reuters: “We sent down teams to all affected sites. We are now assessing the situation. This incident is pretty massive and will take a few days to collect evidence.”

Defence minister Kim Kwan-jin covened an emergency security meeting and raised the military’s cyberattack readiness level from three to four on the five-tier system, Yonhap reported.

The banks have since restored their operations, but the television stations could not say when they would be able to get their systems back up. Some workers at the stations could not boot their computers.

The development comes amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang reacted furiously after the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions earlier this month because of its latest nuclear test.

Last week it accused the United States and South Korea of staging cyber attacks against it following a two day internet outage that disrupted its main news services and websites. Access to the internet is restricted to a tiny proportion of the North’s population, perhaps a few thousand.

A spokesman for Bangkok-based Loxley Pacific, the broadband internet provider for North Korea, told the Associated Press on Friday that the origin of that attack was unclear. The South denied involvement and the US military declined to comment.

Daniel Pinkston, north east Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, said the timing of today’s problems was interesting given Pyongyang’s accusations of US cyber-attacks, and said that there were ongoing concerns about North Korea developing its hacking capabilities.

Last year the top US commander in the region told a Congressional hearing: “North Korea employs sophisticated computer hackers trained to launch cyber infiltration and cyber attacks.”

James Thurman, the commander of US Forces Korea, suggested they were “increasingly employed against a variety of targets including military, governmental, educational and commercial institutions.”

Experts believe the South has been previously targeted by hackers from the North. Anti-virus firm McAfee said it believed a 10-day denial of service attack in 2011 originated from the North and suggested it was an attempt to test the South’s computer defences in preparation for potential future conflicts. Another attack on a newspaper last year was also blamed on North Korean hackers.

“It’s got to be a hacking attack,” Lim Jong-in, dean of Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security, told the Associated Press. “Such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches.”

He warned that it would take months to determine the source of the attacks.


Cyprus savings levy: questions and answers : Levy will be on Average Balance, withdrawing money will not save you

All the issues, causes and consequences of a forced levy on savers at Cypriot banks as part of the eurozone rescue package


Cyprus bank Nicosia cashpoint

People try to withdraw money from a cashpoint machine in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. The levy on Cypriot bank savers as part of the country’s rescue package has been met with shock and fury. Photograph: Barbara Laborde/AFP/Getty Images

Cyprus has become the fifth eurozone country to seek help from international lenders, but the rescue package includes a hugely unpopular levy on savers at Cypriot banks – and it remains unclear on Sunday whether MPs will accept it.


What was agreed in the bailout deal?

Cash-strapped Cyprus will receive around €10bn (£8.7bn) to strengthen its economy and recapitalise its battered banks.

But in a radical departure from previous rescue packages, savers across the Cypriot banking sector are also being forced to contribute to the deal through a compulsory levy on their deposits that will raise €5.8bn.


Hang on, savers are being taxed to help prop up Cyprus’s economy?

Technically they are being “bailed in” – and will receive equity (bank shares) in return. But yes, in effect it’s a tax on all savers.

Those with under €100,000 will lose 6.75%, rising to 9.99% for those with over €100,000 in the bank.


Aren’t savers meant to be insured against losses when banks go bust?

Absolutely. Cyprus’s deposit protection scheme states deposits up to €100,000 are protected. But in this case the banks haven’t collapsed, so it doesn’t apply.


Has this happened before?

Not within the eurozone.


How has it been received in Cyprus?

With shock and fury. Bailout negotiations have been running for months, but people had been assured that bank deposits were not at risk. There is particular anger that Cyprus is being singled out – as previous rescue packages did not punish savers. One man even drove his bulldozer to his local branch and threatened to break in (but didn’t).


Has it triggered a bank run?

No. There were queues at savings banks on Saturday, and reports that ATM machines were unable to pay out cash. There is a scheduled bank holiday on Monday, and the Cypriot government has frozen electronic transfers this weekend.

The levy will be imposed on balance levels when the deal was struck, so savers can’t escape it.


Why did Cyprus swallow such a bitter deal?

President Nicos Anastasiades said the alternative was “disorderly bankruptcy”, as Cypriot banks would have collapsed without the support of the European Central Bank.


Will it definitely happen?

No. The Cypriot parliament was due to vote on the measure on Sunday. But the vote was dramatically postponed until Monday, leading to speculation that the government doesn’t have enough support. Anastasiades, who was elected president only last month, does not control a majority in the Nicosia parliament.


How is raiding savers justified?

Officially, because the deal will protect the Cypriot banking sector.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, who chairs the eurogroup of finance ministers, told reporters: “As it is a contribution to the financial stability of Cyprus, it seems ‘just’ to ask a contribution of all deposit holders”.


And unofficially?

There were concerns, particularly among German politicians, that a bailout would reward the many Russians who use the Cyprus banking system. The large number of transfers between the two countries has led to suspicions of possible money laundering. Thus the insistence that savers should share the burden.


Why does Cyprus need rescuing?

Cyprus has been badly hurt by the crisis in Greece, its close neighbour and trading partner. Demand for Cypriot goods from Greece has fallen since the Greek recession began. And crucially, Cypriot banks held large quantities of Greek sovereign bonds, meaning they suffered heavy losses when the debt was restructured.

Another factor is that Cyprus’s banking sector is around eight times as large as its GDP, according to some estimates. Thus the government couldn’t bail its banks out itself (as the UK did with RBS and Lloyds in 2008).


Is this bad news for Brits in Cyprus?

Yes, expats with savings in Cypriot banks will be hit. However, the chancellor, George Osborne, announced on Sunday morning that the government will compensate soldiers and civil servants based in Cyprus. In total, British savers hold around €2bn in banks in Cyprus, so would lose around €170m.


Are savers in other countries in the eurozone also at risk?

Top Brussels officials insist not. Olli Rehn, European commission vice-president, described the Cypriot levy as a one-off that would not be applied in other cases (because of the huge size of its banking sector related to the country’s whole economy). No other countries are seeking a bailout at present, as Spain and Italy’s borrowing costs have fallen in recent months. Spain has also already agreed a deal to strengthen its own banks, which did not include a levy on savers.

Having said that, savers in southern Europe must be looking at Cyprus and wondering if their savings are as safe as they thought. That could potentially hit confidence in local banks (although at this stage there are no reports of alarm).


How has the deal gone down in the City?

Badly. Sebastien Galy of Société Général predicted: “This will probably go down as an ill-thought-out rescue plan with consequences for peripheral Europe.”

And SocGen’s chief economist, Michala Marcussen, warned: “The package for Cyprus still comes with tough conditionality and the risk is that introducing a new ‘unique’ bank levy measure – despite the many reassurances – could trigger renewed concerns.”


Have any European politicians spoken out?

Sharon Bowles MEP, chair of the European parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, said she was appalled by the savings levy, saying it “robs smaller investors of the protection they were promised”.

Bowles added: “If this were a bank, they would be in court for mis-selling.”

“The lesson here is that the EU’s single market rules will be flouted when the eurozone, ECB and IMF say so. At a time when many are greatly concerned that the creation of the ‘banking union’, giving the ECB unprecedented power, will demote the priorities of the single market, we see it here in action.”


Could it happen in the UK?

There is no suggestion that British banks could impose such a levy.

RBS and Lloyds were recapitalised by the UK government in 2008, while Barclays managed to strengthen its capital reserves by tapping external investors. All British banks are able to borrow on the international markets. And the British goverment can also borrow at low interest rates.

Britain also has a deposit protection scheme, which was beefed up after the collapse of Northern Rock in 2007.


What else did Cyprus have to agree to?

The government has promised to raise its corporation tax rate, and also privatise some state assets. The country’s union has pledged to fight the asset sales.


So Cyprus isn’t safe yet, despite this unpopular bailout?


The Political Leaders of the EU, IMF, and Cyprus need to be audited.


I rarely offer commentary, but the Iron needs to be struck while hot.

The people of Europe need to know whether the political leaders of the Eurozone, including Cyprus, transferred money to safer havens prior to the proposed bank levy.

Please forward this proposal to those effected.

ScreenHunter_54 Jan. 04 13.09

Cyprus: panic as savings levy is imposed

Cypriots rush to ATMs before savings are docked as part of a bailout deal agreed in Brussels

  • Paul Gallagher and Helena Smith
  •, Saturday 16 March 2013 15.14 EDT
panic as savings levy imposed on Cyprus

Cyprus’s rightwing leader Nicos Anastasiades believes his country will default following the move, and threaten to unravel investor confidence in the eurozone. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/REUTERS

Cypriots reacted with shock that turned to panic on Saturday after a 10% one-off levy on savings was forced on them as part of an extraordinary 10bn euro (£8.7bn) bailout agreed in Brussels.

People rushed to banks and queued at cash machines that refused to release cash as resentment quickly set in. The savers, half of whom are thought to be non-resident Russians, will raise almost €6bn thanks to a deal reached by European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is the first time a bailout has included such a measure and Cyprus is the fifth country after Greece, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Spain to turn to the eurozone for financial help during the region’s debt crisis. The move in the eurozone’s third smallest economy could have repercussions for financially overstretched bigger economies such as Spain and Italy.

People with less than 100,000 euros in their accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%, Eurozone officials said, while those with greater sums will lose 9.9%. Without a rescue, president Nicos Anastasiades said Cyprus would default and threaten to unravel investor confidence in the eurozone. The Cypriot leader, who was elected last month on a promise to tackle the country’s debt crisis, will make a statement to the nation on Sunday.

The prospect of savings being so savagely docked sparked terror among the island’s resident British community. At the Anglican Church’s weekly Saturday thrift shop gathering in Nicosia, Cyprus’s war-divided capital, ex-pats expressed alarm with many saying that they had also rushed to ATMs to withdraw money from their accounts. “There’s a run on banks. A lot of us are really panicking. The big fear is that there soon won’t be cash in ATMs,” said Arlene Skillett, a resident in Nicosia. “People are worried that they’re automatically going to lose ten present [of their savings] in deposit accounts. Anastasiades won elections saying he wouldn’t allow this to happen.”

She said a lot of elderly Britons had transferred savings to the island when they had decided to retire there. “Nobody can understand how they can do this – isn’t it illegal? How can they just dock money from your account?” she asked.

In the coastal town of Larnaca, Cypriots described how they had queued from the early hours in the hope of withdrawing deposits from banks. “A lot of us just can’t believe it,” said Alexandra Christofi, a divorcee in her 40s who said she had rushed to her bank before doors even opened at 6am. “I had put my money there for a rainy day. It’s absolutely all I have and I cannot understand how Cyprus is being singled out. Other EU countries got bailouts and we’re only in this position because we supported Greece,” she said, referring to the massive losses the Cypriot banking system suffered as a result of Greece’s restructuring its debt last year. “Where is the fairness in that? Where is the solidarity and support that is meant to be the reason why we are all unified in this common currency in the first place?”

Maria Zembyla, from Nicosia, said the levy would make a “big dent” in her family’s savings and “erode the investor confidence”. “It is robbery. People like us have been working for years, saving to pay for our children’s studies and pensions and suddenly they steal a big share of this money. Russians that currently keep the economy afloat will leave the country along with their money,” she added.

Howard Skelton, in Limassol, said: “The only people who will benefit in the long term are the banks. It will be many years before the man in the street begins to feel any benefit from this bailout. The sooner I can return to the UK the better.”

The levy does not take effect until Tuesday, following a public holiday, but action is being taken to control electronic money transfers over the weekend. Co-operative banks, the only ones open in Cyprus on a Saturday, closed following a run on the credit societies while ATMs cancelled transactions due to “technical issues”.

“I wish I was not the minister to do this,” Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris said after Friday’s late-night talks in Brussels. “Much more money could have been lost in a bankruptcy of the banking system or indeed of the country.”

Depositors started queuing early to withdraw their cash, and protestors gathered outside the presidential palace. “I’m extremely angry. I worked years and years to get it together and now I am losing it on the say-so of the Dutch and the Germans,” said British-Cypriot Andy Georgiou, 54, who returned to Cyprus in mid-2012 with his savings.

“They call Sicily the island of the mafia. It’s not Sicily, it’s Cyprus. This is theft, pure and simple,” said a pensioner.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who attended the meeting, said she backed the deal and would ask her board in Washington to contribute to the bailout. “We believe the proposal is sustainable for the Cyprus economy,” she said, “The IMF is considering proposing a contribution to the financing of the package. The exact amount is not yet specified.”