You know the routine. You go to Citibank, Chase, HSBC, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and make your way to the automated teller machine ("ATM"), where you swipe your bank card in the slot and enter your Personal Identification Number ("PIN"). It's how millions of American daily get in touch with their cash. It's quick. It's efficient. Ahhh, but is it safe?
Did you know that since May 2011, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York have been investigating an ATM skimming fraud ring that targeted HSBC branches in the New York City Metropolitan area?
According to a federal criminal Complaint filed on January 5, 2012, in Manhattan federal court, a fraud ring stole in excess of $1.5 million from HSBC customer bank account s by installing high-tech "skimming" devices on more than 40 ATMs in Manhattan, Long Island, and Westchester.
Skimming : The installation of an electronic device, usually undetectable by ATM users, that surreptitiously records the user's bank account information and corresponding PIN.
The ring used skimming technology that included:
(i) devices surreptitiously placed over the ATM card readers, which recorded the encoded information from the electronic strip on the back of the bank cards as they were swiped; and
(ii) small pin-hole cameras installed on the ATMs that made a video recording of the customers' PINs as the numbers were entered into the ATM machines.
When the coast was clear, members of the ring retrieved the skimming devices and downloaded the stolen card information. The data on the skimmers was then matched to the corresponding account numbers as captured by the pin-hole cameras. In one fell swipe, the unsuspecting customer exposed his card's account number and uploaded the confidential account information from the card's strip.
The ring then encoded the stolen bank account information onto plastic cards. Those fabricated cards were then matched with the stolen PINS and the victimized accounts were hit with unauthorized withdrawals.
On January 5, 2012, Laurentiu Iulian Bulat was arrested and detained after being observed on HSBC bank video surveillance installing skimming devices on two ATMs located at a Manhattan branch. After branch personnel notified the Secret Service, agents visited the sites and confirmed that skimming devices had been placed on the two ATMs - including card readers and pin-hole cameras. Thereafter, the agents placed the ATMs under surveillance and observed Bulat returning to the ATMs, apparently to manipulate the skimming devices. When Bulat was arrested, he was in possession of a flathead screwdriver, which is purportedly used to place and remove the skimming devices.
Bulat, a citizen of Romania , is illegally in the United States on an overstayed visa. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.
NOTE: The charges and allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.