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United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan Western District of Washington

Leader Of ‘Skimming’ Ring With International Ties Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison

Leader of Romanian Crime Ring Stole more than $300,000 by Hijacking ATM Data and Raiding Bank Accounts

June 29, 2012

            The leader of a crime ring involved with “skimming” information from dozens of bank automated teller machines (ATM) was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle to seven years in prison, five years of supervised release and $328,161 in restitution for bank fraud, conspiracy, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  ISMAIL SALI, 53, of Kirkland, Washington, pleaded guilty in March 2012.   SALI and his co-conspirators used high tech devices and pin-hole cameras to obtain personal information from bank customers, and then used that information to drain bank accounts.  Information developed by the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force revealed that SALI had been involved in skimming in the Seattle area as early as 2007.  At yesterday’s sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said, “This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

            “Skimming is a cybercrime that costs our economy over a billion dollars and hurts thousands of victims,” said U.S. Attorney Durkan.  “This defendant lead a group of thieves who  thrived on people’s money.  I commend the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force for dismantling this ring.”

In September 2011, a search warrant executed at the Kirkland home shared by SALI and defendant Eugen Tirca resulted in the seizure of forms for making card skimmers, fake face plates for ATM machines, numerous gift cards and electronic equipment for encoding stolen account data onto the cards.  Investigators also found documents tying SALI to four other defendants who had previously been arrested and prosecuted for skimming activity, including Ion Armeanca, Dan Petri, Ovidiu Mateescu and Claudiu Tudor.  Three of those defendants have already been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Today, the last member of the ring, Ion Armeanca, was sentenced to three years.  Eugen Tirca was sentenced in April 2012 to 66 months in prison.

            SALI and Tirca continued the skimming activity even after their co-horts had been arrested and federally charged.  “Undeterred by the arrest and prosecution of their associates, Sali and Tirca continued to relentlessly pillage the savings of honest Americans. This operation’s ties to international criminal activity is also extremely aggravating. Large amounts of personal victim information and cash proceeds of fraud were sent overseas, beyond the reach of the American criminal justice system. Simply put, Sali remorselessly pursued greed, leaving behind a wake of emptied bank accounts and confused and frustrated victims. He stole what belonged to others in utter disregard to the potential dire consequences to their hundreds of innocent victims, many of whom may live paycheck to paycheck,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

            The U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Secret Service have some tips for consumers to try to avoid being victimized by skimmers:

  • If the access door to a lobby ATM is broken, don’t use the ATM, go somewhere else.
  • If there is more than one ATM, and a sign has been placed on one of the units saying it is out of service, go somewhere else – the sign could be an attempt to direct traffic to the machine where skimming equipment is installed.
  • Check the machine before putting your card in – is the card slot securely in the machine? Has anything been installed around the edges of the machine that could conceal a camera?  Is any glue or sticky substance around the key pad or card slot?
  • Always attempt to cover your hand when you enter your PIN so that if there is a camera, the numbers cannot be captured.
  • Watch your account activity and report any unauthorized credit or debit charges immediately.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Masada and Norman Barbosa.

Updated January 29, 2015

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