Four indicted in $1.5M ATM skimming operation

Prosecutors allege members of the group actually entered bank branches to modify card readers and steal data

Three Romanian men and one Austrian man were indicted on Monday by U.S. federal prosecutors for allegedly stealing more than US$1.5 million by cloning payment cards with stolen account information.

The men are accused of so-called skimming, or recording account details from the magnetic stripe of payment cards while also capturing a person's PIN (Personal Identification Number) by using fake overlays on the number pads.

Prosecutors said the gang targeted accounts at Citibank and JP Morgan Chase and Co. between March 2010 and May 2011 in cities including New York, Miami and Chicago.

Mihail Draghici, Ionel Dedulescu and Laurentiu Mugurel Manta, all of Romania, are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The Austrian man, Didi Theodor Ciulei, was indicted on the same charges. Draghici and Dedulescu were additionally charged with bank fraud and could face a maximum of 69 and a half years in prison. Ciulei and Manta face up to 62 years if convicted. They were indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, located in Manhattan.

The case stands out in particular for its boldness. Many criminals try to fit skimming devices on ATM machines outside, often late at night wearing a hood that can obscure them from being identified by security cameras, which are often positioned to monitor the machines.

But the four men charged in this case are alleged to have actually entered bank branches and modified card readers near the tellers. The men allegedly replaced the PIN pads with ones that could record the secret number along with the card's account information and then remotely transmit it.

They also allegedly harvested card information from card readers outside ATM vestibules. Many ATMs are located inside locked vestibules where customers must swipe their payment card in order to unlock the door. The men are also accused of using overlay number pads that fit over the normal pad.

Once they captured the information, the group then allegedly encoded the account information onto cards with magnetic stripes, such as gift cards, using a device called a magnetic stripe reader or writer. Once the cards were encoded and PINs in hand, it's then possible to start making withdrawals.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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