PHILIPPINE National Police agents are on the hunt for Automated Teller Machine or ATM scam artists from Central Europe particularly Romania and Bulgaria who have gained notoriety for withdrawing huge amount of cash from ATM machines in different parts of the country using fraudulent bank cards, officials said yesterday as they also sought the help of the public in jailing these foreign con artists.
Last November 6, a 41-year old Bulgarian national landed in a Bulacan police jail after being arrested for involvement in ATM fraud, Bulacan Police Provincial Office director, Senior Superintendent Romeo M. Caramat Jr. said.
Orlin Grozdanov Stoev had just made several huge withdrawals at a Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) ATM machine in Barangay Sta. Cruz in Guiguinto town when arrested after the BPI head office told a guard on duty that the suspect was covering the ATM booth’s CCTV camera with a paper while making withdrawals.
When taken to the local police headquarters for investigation, the suspect was found in possession of 20 pieces of assorted foreign ATM cards with three transaction receipts amounting to P40,000. The Bulgarian has been charged for violation of RA 8484 or An Act Regulating the Issuance and Use of Access Devices, Prohibiting Fraudulent Acts Committed Relative Thereto, Providing Penalties and for Other Purposes.
Since 2015, PNP agents have made several high-profile arrests of foreign ATM scammers including that of a 32-year old Bulgarian who was once jailed by Paraguayan authorities in 2011 for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from the accounts of Bill Gates, the world’s richest man.
Bulgarian Konstantin Simeonov Kavrakov was arrested while in the act of withdrawing money using different counterfeit bank cards at the ATM machine of the PS Bank branch along Quezon Avenue in Q.C.
On November 8 last year, Taguig City policemen arrested Bulgarian Simeon Tsennov Lefterski, 28, while withdrawing money from an ATM machine at the Market-Market Mall in Global City using different ATM cards and a 7-Eleven Reward Card.
Lefterski was placed under arrest after a review of the CCTV footage showed him making the illegal ATM withdrawals. The suspect also yielded 37 pieces of 7-Eleven Reward Cards, nine white cards, P31,840 in cash and his Alien Certificate of Registration. A check also showed that the 39 different cards seized from the Bulgarian’s possession were all cloned ATM cards as certified by the BPI.
On October 31 of the same year, two Romanian nationals accused of involvement in high-tech illegal money withdrawal scheme were also arrested by the police in an operation in Mandaue City in Cebu.
Suspects Petru Loan Uveges, 43; and Stefania Mihaela Osman, 36, were caught in the act of making unauthorized withdrawals from an ATM machine in Barangay Tipolo in Mandaue City using fake credit cards. Recovered from the suspects’ possession were the P52,000 they withdrew from the ATM machine, nearly 100 pieces of counterfeit credit cards and three Security Bank ATM transaction slips with P10,000 withdrawals each.
Police tagged the two suspects as members of the so-called “Romania Cyber Crime Syndicate” which gained notoriety for withdrawing cash from ATM machines in Cebu thru the use of fake British Export Cards. The suspects are known to have defrauded owners of international bank accounts with a substantial amount of money over the past few years.
Another Romanian economist named Gheorghe Adelin Stretsu was also arrested for the same offense in September last year. In May 2015, police also arrested two Bulgarian nationals identified as Mladenor Emil Stoyanov and Kanev Lyuben Georgrive for their involvement in an international ATM fraud scheme. The two Bulgarians were caught installing ATM skimming devices on the pin pad of an ATM booth of Banco de Oro inside SM City Pampanga.
Experts said the syndicate members are known for surreptitiously placing skimming devices in ATM keypads to copy the bank account data from inserted cards and loot the owner’s bank account.
This has prompted the PNP leadership headed by Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ M. dela Rosa to advise bank owners to install Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras near their ATM booths and if possible, assign civilian guards to watch their respective ATMs 24/7, according to PNP spokesman, Senior Superintendent Dionardo B. Carlos.
PNP investigators said that in 2007, ATM scammers used magnetic rulers to tap money, surveillance cameras and external keypads to get PINs or Personal Identification Numbers, and skim machines to read ATM card information.
In 2008, scammers used a detachable aluminum contraption and some sort of paste to trap money. But recently, police said they have discovered a new kind of scam called the ATM switching.
The modus operandi goes like this: if you have just withdrawn money from an ATM, a scammer may approach you and tell you that you left a P500 bill behind. He or she will suggest that you check your ATM balance. As you do so, the scammer will sneakily memorize your PIN and drop a P500 bill on the ground. When you pick it up -- as you are most probably inclined to do -- the scammer will swipe your card and replace it with a fake one.
Crimes like this can be stopped by locking the ATM booth door once inside; bringing someone along when withdrawing money and covering the keypad when typing your pin number and moving to another ATM when there are suspicious-looking people behind, Carlos said.
In some cases, the gangs even install these devices in selected ATM machines. Information that they have secretly acquired is then used to clone credit cards.
Carlos said that as much as possible, the PNP wants all Filipinos to be ‘scam smart people’ and be wary of the presence of ATM scammers who have become more technology-savvy through the years.
If convicted, violators of RA 8484 face six years to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of P10,000 or twice the value obtained by the offender.