VALHALLA, N.Y. –- Five men were arrested for allegedly stealing nearly $1 million from the bank accounts of unsuspecting patrons by installing skimming devices and tiny cameras at ATM machines throughout the county, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety said.
“This is a large-fraud being perpetrated by a sophisticated group of thieves,” Westchester Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth said at a press conference Tuesday in Valhalla.
The ATM locations were at banks in Bronxville, Greenburgh, Tarrytown, Yonkers and the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights. The devices were attached at all hours of the day.
Authorities said the men, from as far away as Chicago, attached what is called a “dip reader” to ATM machines in order scan the magnetic bar attached to debit and ATM cards. They also installed a pin-hole camera which records the customer’s PIN number being entered in the machine. The men would then duplicate the magnetic strip onto a blank card and use the recorded PIN number to access the account, police said.
“These individuals can act very freely and the public did not notice anything while they were installing these devices,” Yorktown Heights Police Chief Daniel McMahon said, noting that the crowds at the Jefferson Valley Mall didn't deter them.
Bronxville Police Chief Christopher Satriale said the installation can also be done very quickly.
“We have video surveillance of the Bronxville incident and it was less than two minutes for the installation,” Satriale said.
This crime should be wakeup call to Westchester residents, particularly during the busy shopping season, County Executive Rob Astorino said.
“This is a reminder that criminals today have a wide range of technology available to advance their schemes,” Astorino said.
Astorino urged residents to take caution when using ATM machines by shielding their pin number with the opposite hand, being aware of the surrounding area, and reporting any suspicious activity to police immediately.
Richard Merca, 19 of Palatine, Ill., Victor Vdila, 21 of Queens, Istvan Casplar, 29 of Queens, Florinel Gavat, 40 of Queens, Iounut Vasilas, 23 of Chicago, were all arrested and charged with criminal possession of forgery devices, a felony.
While declining to characterize the men as part of an organized crime ring, Longworth said the investigation continues and he believes the crime organization goes much further than the five arrested.
A multi-agency task force contributed to the investigation with police officers from Pelham, Rye, Greenburgh, Bronxville, Yorktown, Yonkers, Peekskill, Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry and Tarrytown along with county police and U.S. Secret Service workers.