Four Romanian nationals face charges for stealing financial information using cameras and skimming devices placed at LIRR ticket machines, according to the Nassau County District Attorney.
Two of the arrestees, Valer Zaharia, 38, his wife, Teodora Zaharia, 27, were placed into custody Monday after they were caught retrieving two skimmer devices and two hidden cameras from the Sea Cliff LIRR station, said the DA.
The scam involved placing pinhole cameras, hidden inside black metal strips, over the keypads on nine different ticket vending machines on Long Island and Westchester. Combining the cameras with skimming devices, the quartet were able to capture PIN codes and card information and stealing thousands of dollars from over 50 bank accounts.
The Zaharias are charged with second-degree identity theft, criminal possession of forgery devices, and second-degree unlawful possession of a skimmer device. They are being held without bail.
After an investigation, police also arrested Niculae Petre, 45, and Dorin Husa, 37, at their apartment in Elmhurst. Petre and Husa are believed to be the leaders of the scam and are tech specialists, the DA said.
Petre and Husa are charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices, and second-degree unlawful possession of personal identification information. They were arraigned Wednesday. Petre is being held on a $50,000 bond and Husa is being held on a $35,000 bond.
If convicted, all four could spend seven years in prison and face deportation. All but one are documented with visas.
Police were alerted of the scam after a customer discovered a small video camera on the floor at a LIRR station Oct. 18. Cops combed through Long Island's machines and found cameras at Sea Cliff, Bayside, Great Neck, Merrillon Avenue, and Greenvale stations. After searching through the entire 278 ticket vending machines in the LIRR system, three additional cameras were discovered at the Chappequa station.
Cops have been in touch with banks to alert them of the scam so they can notify possible victims.
“While law enforcement agencies like ours continue to work together to rein in this scam entirely, customers should raise their alertness at machines, try to use cash or credit cards when possible, and notify authorities immediately of any problems," said NCDA Kathleen Rice.
Anyone who believes they were a victim of the scam is asked to contact MTA Police at 718-361-2201.
Authorities released the following tips for safeguarding your financial information:
· Beware of suspicious activity or individuals at or around TVMs, and walk away if you notice anyone watching you or if something seems suspicious about the TVM itself.
· When entering your PIN, stand close to the machine and use your other hand or an object to block the view of the keypad.
· Try to use credit cards or cash instead of debit cards, which when compromised give criminals direct access to all the funds in a cardholder’s checking account.
· Review your account statements regularly to check for unauthorized withdrawals or purchases.
· Never keep a written copy of your PIN in your wallet or purse.