Hundreds of thousands of rupees have been skimmed out of 32 accounts of a private bank located in the Saddar area of Rawalpindi, indicating the presence of ATM hackers in the twin cities including Islamabad, DawnNews reported on Wednesday.

Reports of unauthorised withdrawals have caused a panic among account holders, whereas the bank's staff seem helpless in the face of the security breach, simply promising those affected that their stolen monies will be returned within 45 days.

One of the 32 affectees is a student named Aliza. During an interview with DawnNews, she said she was studying in Malaysia when she got a weekly statement from her bank, showing Rs400,000 in unauthorised withdrawals between January 13 and 14.

She said she borrowed money from friends and immediately flew back home, where she was assured by bank manager Kamran Yousuf that her money would be returned within 45 days.

The bank manager told DawnNews that ATM hackers had also stolen from the accounts of the bank's own staff, with a bulk of withdrawals made in Karachi.

The manager said that 1,800 ATMs have been blocked across Pakistan, while the bank's higher-ups have sought the State Bank's help in dealing with the problem.

Incidents of ATM skimming are on the rise in Pakistan, with at least six Chinese men, said to be members of an organised gang, apprehended in Karachi last week.

Skimmers are physical devices that are installed over the actual ATM card slots that capture data from cards' magnetic strips, which are later copied onto replica cards that are used to conduct fraudulent transactions.

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