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2 illegals indicted in ATM fraud in Western Pa.

Jason Cato
| Thursday, May 10, 2007

Monroeville police nabbed two Romanians during an East Coast ATM fraud spree, but not before they withdrew about $14,000 from machines in Western Pennsylvania.

A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted Vasile Ciocan, 29, and Romulus Pasca, 36, on conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity-theft charges. They are accused of taking part in a scheme that attached card-reading devices to automated teller machines and gleaned personal information used to make counterfeit cards.

Ciocan and Pasca were arrested April 13 after a passer-by reported suspicious activity near an ATM. The men, who live in Canada and were in the United States illegally, were caught with approximately 20 counterfeit cards, said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

No local bank customers are believed to have been scammed, Buchanan said. Card readers and a video camera to record personal-identification numbers were used on ATMs in Macon, Ga., and Tyson's Corner, Va., she said.

"We believe these two individuals were working with others to alter ATMs in Georgia, Virginia and possibly elsewhere," said Buchanan, adding the investigation is continuing. "We don't have any reason, however, to believe there are any defective machines in the Pittsburgh area."

Jay Foley, executive director of the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center, said ATM fraud is on the rise, in part, because recent security improvements in credit-card software haven't extended to debit cards.

"Debit cards have become more of a front-end solution" for criminals, Foley said.

Recording, or "skimming," devices -- such as card readers -- often are inserted inside or over an ATM's usual card slot, Foley said. To avoid detection, the criminals who make and use fake cards travel from city to city to withdraw money.

In general, ATMs are safe and can be trusted, said Jacob Jegher, a banking analyst with Boston-based Celent LLC.

"ATM fraud pales in comparison to other forms of fraud," Jegher said.

A 2004 Celent study showed that ATM fraud accounted for direct losses of about $60 million annually. The banking industry, according to the same study, lost about $625 million in identity theft, $710 million in check fraud and $965 million in credit-card fraud.

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