The thieves worked together to withdraw the huge sum of money in coordinated withdrawals at 1,400 convenience store ATMs throughout Tokyo and 16 other prefectures, police said, as cited by Kyodo News.
Using forged credit cards containing account details illegally obtained from Standard Bank in South Africa, around 100 different people are believed to have made a single withdrawal of 100,000 yen (US$913) – the maximum allowed by cash machines – in each of the 14,000 transactions attempted.
The withdraws took just three hours to complete, with the first one made just after 5am on May 15, and the last made just before 8am, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported. All of the ATMs were located at 7-Eleven stores.
No one has been arrested in connection with the heist, and local media reports suggest that the thieves – believed to be part of an international crime syndicate – may no longer be in Japan.
Police are currently examining CCTV footage to identify the suspects, and have asked South African authorities to investigate how the credit card information was obtained.
Standard Bank, which has estimated its losses at $19.25 million, has described the heist as a “sophisticated, co-ordinated fraud incident” involving a “small number” of fake cards.
It stressed, however, that its customers had not suffered any losses, and that it has “taken swift action to contain the matter.”
It’s not the first time that a sophisticated ATM heist has hit Japan. In a spree spanning 2012 and 2013, thieves using forged credit cards managed to withdraw $41 billion in 26 countries, including Japan, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.