ANOTHER EXCLUSIVE (ONLY ON CVP) : Working with Citibank investigators, Englewood police busted a pair of ATM “skim crew” thieves, turning up 80 cards created with victims’ accounts, more than $10,000 in cash and various disguises that they said the two undocumented Romanian immigrants used as they swept through the area withdrawing money.
One of the suspects, 52-year-old Constantin Ginga ( INSET: left ), was pulling cash from an ATM at the Citibank Financial Center on Engle Street at the time, while his alleged accomplice, Marius Gheorghe Cotiga, 34 ( right ), waited behind the wheel of a getaway van parked a block away, Englewood Detective Lt. Tim Torell told CLIFFVIEW PILOT tonight.
Neither had time to react Englewood Officers George Coleman, Sandra Mitchell, Ron Johnson, John Holdsworth, Anthony Gonzalez and Lothair Porter, given the signal by bank investigators, surrounded them yesterday.
City police alerted agents from the U.S. Secret Service and ICE, who placed detainers on both – meaning that they will remain at the Bergen County Jail, even if they make the $100,000 bail each. They face deportation proceedings once authorities here are finished with them.
Making the thefts possible were devices known as “skimmers” – small devices, slid on top of an ATM reader, that seize information from your credit or ATM card’s magnetic strip. The thieves transfer that information to a blank card that is then used to filch your account.
That’s not enough, though: The thieves also install tiny cameras that record you typing in your pin – they then have all they need:
Members of a New York City ring recently rang up $3 million in thefts before the U.S. Secret Service busted them.
“I’ve worked a lot of these cases,” Torell told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “These guys retrofit ATM components like you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes you just can’t tell the difference.”
Eight years ago, Torell investigated a similar case, which took him to Toronto, where several skim crews have set up their bases of operations.
It took two years, but Torell got two crew members in the previous Englewood case extradited to face charges here. Both were Romanians living in Canada. One remained at large – and isn’t affected by the statute of limitations, as Torell noted.
In this case, he said, authorities believe Ginga, Cotiga and an undetermined number of accomplices are responsible for $1 million in thefts and losses in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Police were alerted by Citibank investigators, who noticed a pattern of “bust-outs” at the Englewood branch on Sunday mornings: After obtaining debit and credit card date from unsuspecting ATM users, the thieves uploaded that data onto blank cards that they then used to withdraw large amounts of money.
“These guys are high tech and very efficient at what they do,” Torell told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “They usually steal brand-new zero balance gift cards from racks at stores like CVS, Walgreen’s, etc. They then use the cards all at once to withdraw large amounts of money.”
The “runners” are specifically chosen by ringleaders and smuggled into the U.S. “because their faces are unknown to law enforcement,” the lieutenant said.
Ginga and Cortiga are charged with theft, conspiracy to commit theft, financial facilitation and credit-card fraud.
Chances are excellent, Torell said, that the case will go federal.
Meantime, he urged caution when using ATMs, noting that anyone can become a victim:
1. Shake the card when you put it in the reader, or pull on the reader itself: “Sometimes they will come loose or just won’t look right,” he said;
2. Examine the skimmer and keypad: If anything looks sketchy, alert a bank employee;
3. Cover the keyboard when you type in your pin: “If the cameras can’t see you putting it in, they can’t use your card data,” Torell said;
4. Change your pin regularly – a good habit for many reasons;
5. If you need to withdraw money, consider getting cash back on a purchase using the card at a business.
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