A man who has committed thefts in eight European cities has been jailed for a series of stealth attacks on cash machines which caused nearly €13,000 in damage.
Damien Ionut (34) was part of a group of men who targeted ATMs in counties Louth, Kildare, Wicklow, Meath, Westmeath and Dublin. The men used a technique known as “transaction reversal fraud”, which occurs when requested cash isn’t properly dispensed.
Thieves then use an implement to retrieve the cash, thus damaging and shutting down the ATM. The bank account is not debited because the thieves “trick” the ATM into deciding the customer has walked off.
Ionut, with an address of Rayners Lane, Harrow, London appeared at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Friday and affirmed 25 signed pleas, made at a district court hearing last November. The charges included 20 of criminal damage to cash machines and 15 of theft from AIB.
The thefts took place on dates in October and November last.
Garda Emmet Cooke told Aideen Collard BL, prosecuting, that the attack involved two stages, the first using a legitimate “chip and pin” card to make a small cash withdrawal. When the cash drawer opens to give out this cash, the thief puts an implement like a clip into the shutter of the cash drawer.
In the second stage the thief uses the same card to request a much larger cash withdrawal, averaging €500. The machine places this cash into the drawer but behind the shutter, in anticipation of giving it to the customer.
Before the cash is given out the ATM presents the bank card back to the user. At this stage the thief quickly switches this card for a dummy card, tricking the machine into deciding that the customer has walked off without their card, Gda Cooke told Judge Martin Nolan.
The machine accordingly does not debit the bank account of the customer and attempts to recover the cash from the dispenser drum. Gda Cooke said the clip placed into the shutter prevents this from happening and the thieves then simply use a chisel to break into the drawer and take the cash.
Gda Cooke said the total amount taken by Ionut in the five-week period was €5,980. Some of the attacks did not succeed but the total amount of damage caused was €12,881.
A statement from AIB said these crimes render cash machines unavailable and impact on its customers and on the ATM operations team.
Ionut has 30 previous convictions for similar offending. These offences took place in London, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Brussels as well as in cities in Italy, the Czech Republic and Romania.
The court heard that the men were identified on CCTV footage and that during the earlier attacks, they used credit cards in their own name to begin the transactions. They later switched to using pre-paid chip cards.
Judge Martin Nolan backdated a three-year prison sentence to November 5th last when Ionut went into custody. He noted that a custodial sentence will be harder on the Romanian national because of his foreign nationality.
The court heard that Ionut damaged cash machines in Drogheda, Co Louth, Bray in Co Wicklow, Mullingar in Co Westmeath, Rathoath in Co. Meath, Leixlip in Co Kildare. In Co Dublin the gang hit machines in Portmarnock, Skerries and Donabate.