Police in Edinburgh have arrested and charged two men with theft and fraud following a number of so-called ‘shoulder surfing’ incidents that happened in the city centre between May 10 and 13.

The two men, aged 23 and 25, are alleged to have obtained the PIN numbers of people using their debit cards to pay for drinks at bars and clubs in the city centre, before stealing their purse or wallet and using their card to withdraw cash at nearby bank machines.

They appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday, where they were remanded in custody.

Shoulder surfing involves the culprit standing behind a customer who is using a debit or credit card to pay for items in a busy pub, club or restaurant, in order to obtain their PIN.  They will then manoeuvre themselves close to where the customer is seated and attempt to steal their bankcard from their purse or wallet while it is left unattended.

This most recent incident highlights the trend in the method, which has grown along with the number of people who opt to pay with a card instead of cash at licensed premises.

Lothian and Borders Police has been working alongside the licensed trade in Edinburgh to highlight this type of crime to staff, providing crime prevention advice and making recommendations on security practices.

A Force spokesman said: “Criminals using this method are taking advantage of the fact that people enjoying a night out in busy licensed premises are generally less security conscious.

“People need to be alert to maintaining the security of their PIN number at all times, and especially when they are paying for goods in a busy pub, club or restaurant.

“We would advise people to make sure that when they pay using their debit card, they should cover or obscure the keypad so as not to give potential thieves the opportunity they’re looking for.

“Likewise, customers need to keep their personal belongings, such as cards, purses, wallets and mobile phones, in their possession at all times.”