A man described as a “significant cog” in one of the largest and most sophisticated ATM skimming scams detected in the State has been jailed for seven years.
Garda sources said Danile Munteanu was operating on such a significant scale that after he was arrested and taken into custody in March 2019, ATM skimming fraud completely stopped in Ireland.
No such offences were recorded anywhere in the State for two years, with the pattern only broken in recent weeks when a newly arrived group of men were caught apparently setting up skimming equipment around a cash machine.
Munteanu was described as a “significant cog” in the operation by Judge Martina Baxter as she sentenced him at Trim Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday.
He had pleaded guilty to 19 sample charges including theft, using false instruments and possessing a machine to make cloned cards between October 2018 and March 2019.
The 31-year-old father of two, originally from Romania, was caught after gardaí conducted an investigation and surveillance operation that tracked him to a house in Navan, Co Meath.
When the property was raided gardaí discovered what they described as an “ATM fraud factory” involving a fake ATM front, hard drives, receiving devices, soldering equipment, laptops, about 500 blank cards to be used for storing data copied at ATMs, sat navs, pinhole cameras, skimming devices and various ATM skimming paraphernalia.
Munteanu, who has two previous convictions for the same crime in the UK, had been placing a replica front over ATM machines with concealed technology.
When bank customers used the ATM to withdraw cash the strip on their bank card was skimmed and a tiny camera also recorded them punching in their pin code. Munteanu was then able to clone his victims’ cards and withdraw money from their accounts.
The investigation conducted by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, under Det Supt Michael Cryan, concluded that Munteanu stole up to €140,000 from bank accounts in Ireland.
Judge Baxter praised the Garda investigation and was told the victims of the scam were Bank of Ireland customers targeted in Meath, Monaghan, Galway, Kildare, Dublin, Wicklow, Louth and Westmeath.
Some of the victims, from young teenagers to pensioners in their 80s, only realised they had been targeted when they tried to use their card and it was rejected.
The stolen sums were taken in withdrawals of up to €700 each and one victim, aged in their 80s, had more than €7,000 taken from an account, though the bank replaced all of the money stolen.
When the crimes were reported, gardaí began gathering CCTV footage recorded around the targeted ATMs and quickly identified Munteanu as a main suspect, though they initially did not know who he was. However, a trawl of the footage identified an English-registered vehicle used by him.
As gardaí tried to identify him, information about the Romanian was shared within the force. In late 2018, a Garda member on traffic duty stopped Munteanu in Co Monaghan and recognised him and shared the information internally.
This enabled the fraud squad to track Munteanu to a rented property at Tower Mount in Navan, which was placed under surveillance in December, 2018. However, Munteanu had gone back to Romania for Christmas.
After his holiday he came back to Ireland and resumed his fraud, with a familiar pattern of crimes taking place in north Dublin and Meath emerging in February 2019, and gardaí moved in and arrested him in March 2019.