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'Skimming' Scams Spread In U.S.; Romanian Gets Six-Year Term

A Romanian man was sentenced to six years in federal prison for running an ATM skimming crew aimed at using electronic surveillance methods to steal bank information from low-income victims. The problem is growing across the U.S., the Department of Justice says. Marius Oprea, 38, secretly installed skimming devices, including pinhole cameras and card readers, on ATMs in California. The ring used the technology to clone debit cards of participants in anti-poverty programs to steal unemployment benefits from needy people, prosecutors said. When criminals put a hidden electronic device on an ATM card reader, the reader scoops information from a bank card’s magnetic strip whenever a customer uses the machine. Federal prosecutors have targeted skimming fraudsters across several states, including Alabama, California, Nevada and Florida, reports USA Today.

Data analytics firm FICO tracked a sharp rise in skimming scams in 2023, with a 96% jump in compromised debit cards. The FBI estimates skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year. The case of the Romanian national is the latest to use sophisticated methods to dupe unsuspecting people out of their vital bank information at ATM machines. Many of those charged in the crimes come from overseas. “Skimming activity is very much increasing,” said federal prosecutor Andrew Brown. "It is extremely profitable, and the perpetrators are hard to catch because they typically enter the U.S. illegally and live under assumed names with counterfeit IDs.” When federal agents searched Oprea's car and residence in Oxnard, Calif., they found 20 cloned ATM cards, a card reader, a fake Slovakian passport bearing a photo of Oprea under an alias and a cell phone with photos of over 100 cloned ATM cards, multiple ATM skimmers and pinhole cameras. In February, five people in New York were arrested in a scheme targeting 600 bank accounts.


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