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VIDEO: Five Charged With Involvement in Countywide ATM Skimming Operation

Police say thieves stole more than $1M through Westchester ATMs using high-tech device.

Police are warning holiday shoppers to be careful while using Westchester ATMs after uncovering an elaborate ATM skimming scheme they say netted a group of thieves about $1 million over the last few months.

A joint task force involving the Westchester County Police, United States Secret Service and nine local police departments worked together to make five arrests. The scheme involved the placement of "dip readers", which read ATM cards when they are placed in a machine, paired with a small pin-hole camera used to obtain card-holders' pin numbers, police said. The obtained personal information was then copied onto blank cards and used to make withdrawals at another bank.

Police believe those arrested are low-level criminals working for a larger organized crime group.

"We believe it's an organized group and in some degree connected," said George Longworth, Westchester County Department of Public Safety commissioner. "Like many other crimes, the people who are at the lowest level can be easily replaced once they are arrested."

There is no indication at this time that specific areas have been targeted, and police are keeping an eye on banks in all parts of Westchester County. ATM skimmers have been found in ATMs throughout the New York Metro area, but Longworth said Westchester might have been targeted because ATMs are used commonly here.

"It's widespread, it's across the county," said Longworth.

Police continue to investigate and would not discuss in detail how large the organized crime group could be or how many other people they believe are involved. 

Planting a skimming device takes only a couple of minutes and once in an ATM machine they are very difficult to notice, police said.

Bronxville Police Chief Christopher Satriale said 330 accounts were compromised at a Chase branch on Parkway Road in Bronxville in October.

"On two consecutive Sundays we lost $330,000 as a result of the skimmers," he said.

Police said none of those arrested are from Westchester County and that some are not United States citizens. All of the suspects are of Eastern European descent.

Richard Merca, 19, of Palestine, IL, is accused of planting an ATM in the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights. He was arrested on Nov. 13. Victor Vdila, 21, of Astoria, Queens, is accused of attempting a skimming fraud at a Yonkers bank and was arrested on Oct. 16. Istvan Casplar, 29, and Florinel Gavat, 40, both of Astoria, Queens, were charged on Oct. 23 with placing a device at a Greenburgh ATM. Ionut Vasilas, 23, of Chicago, IL, was arrested on Nov. 6 and is accused of attempting a skimming fraud on South Broadway in Tarrytown.

All have been charged with possession of forgery devices, a felony.

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino urged shoppers to take simple precautions while using ATMs during the holiday season, including covering your hand while entering pin numbers and being aware of loosened card readers.

"Whether it is ATM skimming or other schemes, criminals are always looking to take advantage of shoppers during the busy holiday season," Astorino said. "Black Friday and beyond is not only an opportunity for bargains, it is an opportunity for thieves."

Anyone noticing something different about an ATM in the area is encouraged to call police.

Lisa Buchman November 22, 2011 at 06:34 PM
We reported on skimming in Bedford in March 2011 and the police department here said even a trained eye has a difficult time identifying a machine with a skimmer. The best protection, they said, was to cover your hand while typing in your PIN number, so the camera can't capture it.
Jerry Eimbinder November 24, 2011 at 02:03 PM
ATM crime of still another type occurred in the San Francisco area where an ATM repairman replaced real $20 bills in the machine with photocopies. Customers spotted the counterfeits and notified police.
LD November 24, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Thanks patch for keeping us informed!! Gez now we have to be afraid to use Atms,, I always thought that if you used one inside a bank you were ok, well guess again..Even if you cover your hand once they have your card # Thats it because when i purchase something i can hit what ever button, I can hit Debit witch makes me log my pin but i can also hit charge which does not require my pin...So i think i will not use atms any more.. Go to the supermarket and hit cash back (and supermarkets dont charge you a fee ) atleast for now,,,,,,,Happy ThanksGiving Everyone......
LD November 25, 2011 at 02:51 PM
James.... I asked my self the same question why are guys from westchester hooking up with guys inillinois and ny and in Westchester i agree with you this is HUGE,,,,Thanks for the answer....

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