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ATM skimming reports skyrocket as criminals cash in before global chip technology

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — ATM skimming crews are tapping into bank cards around the city and police are trying to slow it down.

“They want to capture the magnetic strip on your card, and they want to capture your PIN number,” said Lieutenant Timothy Fenfert, Commanding Officer of the Special Fraud Squad. “They will then create their own ATM cards, with your information.”

Fenfert added, “Year to date, we’ve seen an increase of 58 percent,” in ATM skimming complaints.

Captain Christopher Flanagan is Commanding Officer of the Financial Crimes Task Force and oversees Fenfert and his team of detectives in their work.

The unit showed PIX11 a variety of ways thieves access PIN numbers, using pinhole cameras that are planted under panels at ATM machines, along with “overlay” keyboards that are placed over the real boards, fitted with chips that pick up customers’ information.

“The chip actually captures every, single, key stroke on the device,” said Detective Admir Gutic of the NYPD’s Identity Theft Squad.

PIX11 spoke to two victims, including a Fresh Meadows, Queens real estate agent who didn’t know skimmers had made 63 transactions using his PIN number. The agent realized he had lost $22,000 from his account, when he finally read his bank statement. He was able to get his money back within three weeks.

When PIX11 asked the man how much the thieves took out in each transaction, he told us it varied. “400. 600. 300. 800,” the man said. “They even exceeded the limit!”

Since July 1st, the Financial Crimes Task Force, working with the Economic Crimes Bureau in the office of Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, have busted 18 people who were allegedly involved in three, specific crews tampering with machines around the five boroughs.

“They tend to be Eastern European, Romanian,” said Greg Pavlides, Chief of the Economic Crimes Bureau in the Queens DA’s office. “They’re now using basically overlays, which will electronically allow them to read the number. They don’t even have to go back inside the bank to get the information, because they have blue tooth technology hooked up to it.”

Among the people busted over the summer: a husband, wife and their adult son, who were part of a Sutter Avenue crew in Brooklyn. The police said they were putting skimming devices on stand alone ATMs located in fast food restaurants and bodegas around the city.

Charlie, 33, a law enforcement professional from Brooklyn, said he realized during a July vacation in Cape Cod that his account had been compromised. His last recollection was using a convenience store ATM in Brooklyn. Charlie remembered the sinking feeling he had at the ATM in Massachusetts, where he wanted to retrieve money for some vacation activities.

“About $4,000 had been withdrawn the previous day,” Charlie told PIX11. We asked how much the balance was in his checking account. “Zero,” he responded.

Charlie was able to get his money back within three weeks, but he notes, “It was still a horrible feeling.”

One of the accused skimmers, Radu Balazs, lived in a second floor apartment over a day care center in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

Victoria, who runs the day care, remembered this about Radu’s vehicle.

“I see that his van, which is an SUV, has a police sign—NYPD—and I thought he was working NYPD!”

She knew Radu as Daniel, and he’s now in jail and his furniture was thrown out of the apartment.

The NYPD told us there’s some good news to report, since detectives took down the three alleged skimming crews. ATM fraud complaints were down 34 percent, in one month.

Detectives advised us to cover the keyboard, when we’re entering a PIN, and to also tug the “overlay” where we slip our bank card in. If it’s loose, detectives told us, use another machine.