Man ran ATM skimming operation from bedroom

Fri, Feb 10, 2012, 00:00

A MAN turned the box-room of his four-bedroom house into a workshop, manufacturing false ATM bank machines for gangs around the world, a court heard yesterday.

When gardaí raided the man’s home in Limerick in February 2011, they were shocked to find the working hub of an ATM skimming scam which police services across Europe and America had been trying to track down.

After his arrest, Vitalii Pascari, (33) explained how he had been running the operation from his home for a year and was shipping ATM machines and ATM parts to clients in Greece, Italy, France and the US.

Judge Carroll Moran said he had “never come across a case like this before”, and adjourned sentencing to Tuesday. The items recovered by gardaí included five plastic ATM covers, four laptops, 150 plastic gift shop cards from Debenhams, Dunnes Stores and TK Maxx, spray cans, copper sheets, battery packs, metal strips, mobile phones, cameras, and chip devices. They also found a portable USB computer memory device containing 13 videos of members of the public typing in their pin numbers at ATMs.

Pascari, of River Road, Rhebogue, Limerick, pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft and fraud relating to the alleged manufacturing and distribution of ATM skimming devices.

Limerick Circuit Court heard he ordered the parts directly from ATM companies and put together custom-made ATM machines for his customers. Gardaí also found €4,000 and $5,000 in cash at the accused’s home. The court heard that at the time of his arrest, Pascari was unemployed and had about €30,000 in his bank account.

John O’Sullivan SC, acting for the State, explained how Pascari created bank cards for his clients by electronically encoding personal bank details of the public on to the magnetic strips at the back of gift cards.

Garda Brendan Stokes, Henry Street Garda station, said: “AIB have a new ATM system and they claimed it was anti-skimming, but the accused had done up the same parts from his house.”

Judge Moran asked the garda: “So, he was keeping up with the latest technology?”, and Garda Stokes replied: “Yes”.

Pascari was caught only when a box addressed to him and labelled “anti-skimming devices”, was spotted at a DHL depot by Customs officers attached to the Revenue Commissioners.

Garda Stokes said the “front pieces of ATM machines that were not available to the public were being shipped to the accused’s address”.

Mr O’Sullivan said the majority of the false ATM bank cards were “ready for use” and “had the pin numbers stuck on to them”.

“He would advertise his services on a website. People would purchase the devices he had made up or device parts and he would sell them on,” he added.

Pascari told gardaí that all he needed was a picture of the ATM machine and he could recreate it.

Other parties, not before the court, placed skimming devices and cameras above legitimate ATM machines to glean people’s pin numbers.

Pascari told gardaí he had earned about €10,000 and was usually paid directly to his bank account or through Western Union payments.

At the time of his arrest, he was completing three new orders for clients in Europe and had just sold a skimming device to a client in Italy for €1,000.

Mark Nicholas, defending, told the court Pascari was “self-taught on the internet” and was “quite an intelligent man”.

Judge Moran said Pascari was “an expert to a degree and he’s to be admired”, but “it’s a pity he wasn’t inclined to do something legal”.

Mr Nicholas said the accused had no previous convictions, had a wife and two children, and had previously found a woman’s bag containing bank cards and cash, and handed it into the same Garda station where he would later be interviewed by detectives.

“He is not a petty thief,” Mr Nicholas said, adding that the accused had helped advise expert Garda fraud officers in relation to other investigations.

“He was very helpful to gardaí. He advised them on how the components would operate and how they might fail. He’d a very important role to play in the whole thing but, his role was not to take the money out of accounts.”