A set of walk-up ATMs is attached to the end of a strip mall across the parking lot from a Chase bank branch on the corner of Elston and Addison in Chicago. A theft ring harvested customers’ PIN numbers at this branch. Photographed Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

International crew busted looting Chicago ATMs with stolen info

SHARE International crew busted looting Chicago ATMs with stolen info
SHARE International crew busted looting Chicago ATMs with stolen info

The alleged ATM thieves wore hoodies and one donned sunglasses – the costume of “cash-out guys” who don’t want their faces captured on camera.

Still, Negru Raul, 25, and Vasile Dobos, 23, were busted earlier this week after Chase Bank tipped police to suspicious activity at ATMs near Addison and Elston.

Authorities say they suspect the men are part of a Romanian financial-crime cell – one of a few dozen such cells looting ATMs in Chicago and draining customers’ bank accounts with an elaborate rip-off system.

First, the crews steal personal banking information from ATM customers by secretly attaching a “skimmer” to ATM machines. The skimmer records the name and numbers on a debit card as the customer swipes it.

The crews also hide a camera near the ATM to catch the customer keying in a password.

Using that information, the crews create duplicate debit cards – commonly using store gift cards that already have magnetic strips.

Finally, the “cash-out” guys fan out to ATMs to withdraw the maximum amount allowed on each debit card.

Some of the alleged “cash-out” guys got nabbed Monday, police said.

One was caught coming out of the bank near Addison and Elston. Another was collared while running from a nearby outdoor ATM.

The men, who are Romanian, were charged in Cook County Criminal Court with felony identity fraud and ordered held on immigration detainers. So far, 16 victims have been identified, and $7,000 was recovered from the men, prosecutors said.

But sources said the theft total could reach $50,000 based on cash recovered from a Mercedes SUV the men were riding in. Police impounded the vehicle.

Sources said Chicago Police officers seized more than 200 gift cards converted to debit cards. Many were wrapped with $500 in $20 bills.

Raul told officers he was from London. Police are double-checking his identity. The name he gave them – Negru Raul – is a river in Romania. The words translate to “Black River.”

Dobos was living in the 2400 block of West Berwyn on the North Side, officials said.

As police were arresting Raul and Dobos on Monday, thieves were looting a downtown ATM in a similar scheme. Officers were unable to catch them, sources said.

Such thievery is a major problem in Chicago and other cities. In 2008, for example, authorities busted a Russian crew suspected of stealing millions of dollars from ATMs.

In that case, Schaumburg police arrested Oleksiy Pudov, who was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and ordered to repay $263,000. He was carrying a list of ATMs to target in Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles, authorities said.

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