Questions surround teens caught with credit card skimmers

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 23, 2018

WARREN — Two teens suspected of trying to attach a credit card skimmer to an ATM at a Warren convenience store remained in juvenile detention at press time as authorities continued to investigate their true identities and to determine how to prosecute them.

The teens, both male, ages 14 and 15, were arrested at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 17 after they were allegedly observed tampering with a cash dispenser at the Circle K store on Van Dyke Avenue, just north of 11 Mile Road.

According to a police report, the teens were seen standing around the machine for a period of time, and they were allegedly observed trying to use multiple cards. They were reportedly gone when officers arrived, but they were located nearby.

Once the teens were in custody, the investigating officers and detectives discovered that something was amiss about the teens’ identities.

“This group is part of a family that travels the country. They’re Romanian nationals. They’re here illegally,” said Deputy Commissioner Matt Nichols, of the Warren Police Department, an expert in fraud and scam investigations.

Nichols said the teens used fictitious documents to obtain IDs.

“They have already been identified, and they had fictitious identification showing them as adults,” Nichols said. “They’re representing themselves as being from California, but they had a rental car from Texas, and they’re in Warren, Michigan, installing these ATM skimmers, which basically capture debit card data with ATM codes.”

Nichols said the scam is “very, very profitable” for the crews that travel the country, sometimes across multiple states, installing the skimmers, which are designed to fit existing ATMs and to record information, which is then used to steal cash from the accounts of users.

He said the operation is organized and that the identities of the family members are often deliberately made murky to stymie and frustrate investigators at the local, state and federal levels.

The fate of the teens, at least in this case, lies with a judge in juvenile court, where a hearing was reportedly scheduled to, among other things, determine who their parents are.

Nichols said suspects with ties to such scams often disappear when they’re released from custody, only to resurface somewhere else far away, doing the same thing.

“They have no ties to Warren. They have no ties to metro Detroit or the state of Michigan, other than committing crimes and defrauding our residents of their hard-earned money,” Nichols said.

He credited the responding officers for seeing through the bogus identifications and connecting the crime to a larger string of activity.

“It wasn’t just a traffic stop, identify some people and seek a warrant somewhere down the road. All of their documents are fraudulent and fictitious. They saw an indicator to warrant further investigation,” Nichols said.

As a precaution, he said, anyone using an external ATM vulnerable to tampering should be wary of any damage to the exterior of the machine or any difficulty in using a card.

“If it doesn’t look right, if it doesn’t feel right, it’s best to just cancel the transaction and go to a different device,” Nichols said.

Anyone with information about card skimming or other fraudulent activity can call Warren detectives at (586) 574-4810.