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Long IslandCrime

Long Island ATMs hit in scam, officials say

A Romanian citizen in the United States illegally faces 60 years in prison on bank-fraud charges for placing skimming devices on ATM machines at banks in Long Island, New York City and Westchester, federal officials said.

Secret Service agents arrested Laurentiu Iulian Bulat, 37, Friday in Manhattan, after he was seen on HSBC bank video surveillance installing skimming devices on two ATMs at a Manhattan branch.

Bulat is part of a fraud ring that stole $1.5 million from customer accounts by installing the high-tech skimming devices on more than 40 ATMs, officials said.

A spokeswoman for Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said she did not know how many Long Island banks had been hit by the fraud ring.

Bulat is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and faces a preliminary hearing on Feb. 6, officials said. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud.

In a news release, Bharara called skimmers "high-tech bank robbers. Instead of using a gun and a note, skimmers use fake card readers and hidden cameras to steal a customer's information to get to that customer's money and take it," Bharara said. "Often it happens completely undetected."

According to a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. attorney's office have been investigating since May a fraud ring that was targeting HSBC branches.

The skimming devices records the user's bank account information and corresponding PIN, thereby enabling criminals to use that information to steal money from the bank customer's accounts, according to a news release.

The thieves encode the stolen bank account information onto plastic cards, and use them, along with the corresponding PINs, to make unauthorized cash withdrawals directly out of the compromised accounts of the bank's customers.

Bulat was identified through the review of bank surveillance video as being the ring's "installer."

Agents said when he was arrested Bulat had a Romanian passport in his name and a flathead screwdriver, which authorities say is typically used to place and remove the skimming devices.

Officials also said Bulat is in the country on an "overstayed" visa.

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