Four people were arrested and charged after authorities said the group operated a scheme using “skimmers” to capture the debit card numbers of Long Island Rail Road customers and small cameras to record PIN codes at ticket machines at various stations, prosecutors and law enforcement officials said Friday.
The four – all Romanian nationals – were arraigned on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 at criminal courts in Nassau and Queens, prosecutors said. Detectives tracked them down after locating cameras at five Long Island Rail Road stations.
Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams said investigators first learned of the skimming devices when a customer approached an MTA employee at the LIRR station in Bayside with a piece of plastic that fell from a ticket vending machine. Authorities said a small camera was embedded in the plastic and detectives found two skimming devices on the vending machine’s credit card readers.
MTA Police Chief Michael Coan said police canvassed every ticket vending machine in the system and found cameras and “skimmers” at the Bayside, Great Neck, Merillon Avenue, Sea Cliff and Greenvale stations. Nine devices were found in total at Long Island stations.
At a Friday news conference, Coan said detectives disabled all of the devices and then placed them back while they waited for the unsuspecting scammers to retrieve their gadgets.
Cops busted Valer Zaharia, 38, and his wife, Teodora Zaharia, 27, at the Sea Cliff Long Island Rail Road station on Monday. Coan said the two – who immigrated to the United States a few months ago – were caught in the act while removing the camera and skimming devices from the station’s ticket machines.
Investigators also obtained search warrants for several locations in Elmhurst, Queens. At an apartment in Elmhurst, detectives arrested 45-year-old Niculae Petre and 37-year-old Dorin Husa.
“They are the people who construct the devices,” said Diane Peress, chief of the Nassau DA’s Economic Crimes Bureau. “They have the putty knives, the soldering irons and the spray paint.”
Coan called the apartment a “virtual factory to manufacture skimming recording devices and produce fraudulent credit and debit cards.” Authorities allegedly recovered thousands of stolen debit and credit card numbers, hundreds of gift cards, as well as cameras, skimmers, plastic molds, memory cards, flash drives, computers, cash and credit cards. Prosecutors said two flash drivers, which contained stolen account numbers, were found in a toilet.
Valer and Teodora Zaharia were charged with second-degree identity theft, criminal possession of forgery devices and unlawful possession of marijuana. They appeared Friday at the Nassau County Court in Mineola and were ordered held without bail. The two are due back in court on Nov. 14.
Petre and Husa were charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices and second-degree unlawful possession of personal identification information. They are both due back in court on Nov. 19.
If convicted, each faces up to seven years behind bars. They all also face potential deportation, Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice said.