OAK PARK, Mich. - A massive ATM theft operation involving three men and banks across Metro Detroit led police to uncover a credit card cloning workshop set up in an Oakland County apartment building, officials said.
Ciprian Viorel Vartolomei, Catalin Puscasu and Ion Florin Opruio are accused of stealing more than $200,000 between September 2018 and March 2019 from banks across Southeast Michigan by making clone cards and withdrawing money from ATMs.
Members of the United States Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations and the South Eastern Michigan Financial Crimes Task Force began an investigation into credit card skimming in September 2018, officials said.
Several victims around Metro Detroit complained that unauthorized ATM withdrawals were being made from their bank accounts, according to authorities.
Oproiu was identified as a suspect in multiple fraud reports after being seen on surveillance video at several of the ATMs using cloned cards to withdraw money, according to police.
Shelby Township complaint
Shelby Township police investigated a fraud complaint after a woman said $1,000 was stolen from her Community Choice Credit Union checking and savings accounts, police said.
The woman said $500 was withdrawn from her checking account through the ATM at the Michigan Educational Credit Union in Macomb.
She told police she was in possession of her bank card at the time of the withdrawal.
Oproiu was caught on surveillance video Sept. 14 using the woman's account at the ATM, according to court records.
Livonia police received a complaint from a woman who said $780 had been stolen from her MECU account.
The money was withdrawn at the same time as the incident involving the Shelby Township woman, according to police.
The Livonia woman told police she was also in possession of her bank card at the time of the withdrawal.
MECU surveillance video appears to show Vartomolei at the ATM on Sept. 21 using the woman's account information. Her account number and PIN were compromised during a skimming incident at MECU in Livonia, according to authorities.
Vartomolei was identified from surveillance videos as the person who installed and removed the ATM skimmer involved in the incident, officials said.
MECU members from the Livonia branch lost about $17,726.25 during the skimming incident, according to court records.
More than $175,000 stolen during skimming incidents
Officials with American 1 Credit Union reported more than $100,000 was taken during two ATM skimming incidents in February, records show.
A skimmer had been installed on an ATM at the bank in Jackson between Feb. 2 and Feb. 5, according to authorities.
About $107,444.70 was stolen from the credit union's members' accounts, officials said.
A person believed to be Vartolomei was caught on surveillance video installing and removing the skimming devices, police said.
A second skimmer had been installed on the ATM at a different bank branch in Jackson between Feb. 7 and Feb. 9, American 1 Credit Union officials said.
The second skimmer resulted in a loss of about $69,726.50, officials said.
2 men arrested
Pascasu and Vartolomei were captured on surveillance video March 25 making fraudulent withdrawals from a County National Bank ATM in Jonesville, Michigan, according to authorities.
Puscasu was driving and Vartolomei was the front seat passenger in a silver 2019 Ford Fusion, police said.
Investigators said they found the Fusion the following day in a parking lot on West Nine Mile Road in Oak Park. They said Vartolomei and Puscasu walked out of the building, got in the Fusion and drove away.
Police followed the Fusion and eventually conducted a traffic stop, officials said. Vartolomei and Puscasu were arrested by Homeland Security agents for immigration violations, according to court documents.
Vartolomei had $3,400 cash in his pocket and Puscasu had $7,980 cash on him at the time of their arrests, police said.
Investigators recovered fraudulent identification documents and bank cards matching the names of their fake identities, according to authorities.
Oak Park apartment searched
Officials said one of the apartments on West Nine Mile Road was being rented by Vartolomei under a fake name.
Here's what police said they found during a search of the apartment:
- $79,950 in cash.
- Several counterfeit access device parts used to create counterfeit access devices.
- Materials and parts used to make deep-insert skimmers and related equipment, such as flat stock, batteries, wiring harnesses, modified access devices, SD cards and a Diebold-style faceplate and Diebold ATM name placard.
- Tools for creating counterfeit access device equipment, such as a Dremel tool, voltage meter, soldering equipment and a laptop computer.
- Several articles of clothing matching those seen on bank surveillance footage.
- About 505 cloned access devices with suspected PINs written on the devices.
- Bank records showing accounts opened in fake names: Eric Rene Fuss, Dumitru Movradin, Bjorn Ove Sibgjornsen and Jean Francois Margelli.
- Documents showing Vartolomei and Puscasu had control over the apartment.
Police said a room in the apartment was set up as a workshop to manufacture counterfeit access device equipment.
Law enforcement officers said the recovered devices and parts were skimming equipment used to harvest personal information such as credit card numbers, debit card numbers and PIN numbers.
Most of the cash was in $20 bills, which is consistent with bills withdrawn from bank ATMs, officials said.
Southgate storage unit searched
Homeland Security officials searched a storage unit in Southgate that was being rented by Vartolomei, court records show.
Here's what officials said they found in the storage unit:
- Several counterfeit access device parts used to make counterfeit access devices such as Diebold-style ATM face plates, pin hole cameras with SD cards, wiring harnesses, flat stock, circuitry and card reader cover plates.
- Blank financial transaction devices and seven cloned financial devices with suspected PINs written on the devices.
- A card reader/writer used to create cloned access devices.
- Fake identification documents for Vartolomei and Puscasu.
An investigation into the cloned cards found in the apartment and storage unit confirmed that 325 account numbers belong to American 1 Credit Union members, police said.
From those account numbers, officials with the bank found evidence of additional skimming incidents at their branches in Hillsdale, Milan, Vandercook and Battle Creek, according to authorities.
Unauthorized charges in Dearborn
Jackson police said a man reported three unauthorized charges made in Dearborn to his American 1 Credit Union account. The charges totaled $993.85, the man said.
Investigators followed up with the business where the purchases had been made and obtained video of Vartolomei and Puscasu in the store using the ATM, police said.
Records show the man's credit card was compromised during a skimming incident in Jackson, bank officials said.
Unauthorized charges in Taylor
Jackson police said a woman reported multiple unauthorized charges against her American 1 Credit Union account in Taylor.
Police said her account was used Feb. 17 in Taylor.
Investigators followed up with the business and obtained video showing Vartolomei and Puscasu in the store using the ATM, according to authorities.
The woman's card was compromised during the skimming incident as the card used in Dearborn, bank officials said.
Vartolomei is charged with access device fraud, possession of device-making equipment and aggravated identity theft.
Puscasu is charged with access device fraud, possession of device-making equipment and aggravated identity theft.
Oproiu is charged with access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Government officials intend to order the men to forfeit all proceeds from the scheme, according to court records.
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