Christmas shoppers are being urged to be on the alert after a woman had the entire contents of her bank account cleared after using a Belfast city centre cash machine suspected to have been fitted with a "skimming device".
The PSNI fraud investigation team issued the warning to the public after £350 disappeared from the bank account of the victim after she used a Bank of Ireland ATM on the Dublin Road - just seven days before Christmas.
The Belfast worker, who did not wish to be identified, said she and a friend both used the ATM last Thursday and she discovered money missing when she went to use it again on Tuesday.
"I checked with my friend who had also used the machine, and there had been no activity with her account," she said.
"But just hours later she was contacted by her bank to say attempts had been made to access her account."
The victim said there had been no indication that the ATM had been tampered with.
"It's an invisible crime. I knew nothing about it until I next used a cash machine.
"I was very upset and disappointed initially.
"If I had thousands in the account, it would have been taken, there's no doubt about it."
She added: "If I had a family and children to buy presents for at Christmas, it would have been gone, and I think a lot of other people were hit by the same machine."
The victim also revealed that the attempt to access her friend's account took place in Bettystown, Drogheda.
A police spokeswoman said the bank involved was understood to be dealing with the matter.
The theft follows several reports that skimming devices have been attached to the card slots of ATMs in Belfast. Although this type of activity has increased over the past 10-12 weeks, ATM banking is still one of the safest ways to access money.
Detective Superintendent Ian McCullins told members of the public to proceed with caution, especially during the festive period.
"People should examine the machines before using them. Check around the card slot and keyboard areas. If you are unsure of anything, use another machine. Thieves use attachments to 'skim' your details and make a clone of your original card, therefore you may not be aware that anything untoward has happened."
DS McCullins added that the problem is UK-wide and urged members of the public to help the PSNI eradicate it.
"We are currently working with colleagues throughout the UK as there appears to be an organised crime element to this activity," he said.
"We would appreciate any help from the general public and are advising anyone who notices anything suspicious at cash machines or anyone acting suspiciously near them to contact their local police."
A Bank of Ireland spokesman confirmed there was an incident at one of its city centre ATMs recently.
"There is nothing wrong with this particular ATM and the person who had her bank account emptied has been fully reimbursed," he said.
"When this type of fraud occurs, the bank in question will reimburse the customer provided they are still in possession of their bank card."