Police foil ATM scheme
Three arrested in scam

LAWRENCEVILLE - Police say they've arrested three men who orchestrated a sneaky, high-tech method of bilking money from hundreds of Washington Mutual Bank customers.

The alleged thieves stole ATM information used to drain bank accounts from customers at branches between Roswell and Lawrenceville, police said.

A detective caught the men red-handed Saturday night - allegedly removing a so-called "skimming device" and a small video camera - at a branch on Old Norcross Road in Duluth, police said.

The suspects, who are of Romanian descent, remained in the Gwinnett County Jail on $55,400 bond Tuesday.

Lawrenceville police spokesman Capt. Greg Vaughn said the arrests resulted from an 18-month investigation, initiated when victims came to police last year. He was unsure how much loot the suspects allegedly stole, or how many branches were hit.

"From all indications, it does appear" the suspects targeted only Washington Mutual, or WaMu, banks, Vaughn said. "Why? I don't know."

The thieves' modus operandi was identical each time, Vaughn said.

The skimming device, or trap, is a cover that resembles a card swipe. The thieves discreetly fastened the devices over regular card swipes that allow customers access to glass-enclosed ATM machines, Vaughn said.

"That's the unique thing about it - it still allows the original device to open the door as well as captures your card information," Vaughn said. "Really, the average person would never know."

The thieves also allegedly planted miniature cameras near the ATM that recorded customers typing in PIN numbers. Using the card numbers, the suspects then made counterfeit bank cards, which they used at different ATMs with the PIN numbers to deplete customers' funds, Vaughn said.

Investigators are still trying to determine where the suspects got their hands on such technology, Vaughn said.

"It would have to be custom-made, custom-fitted to go over WaMu's card swipe," he said.

More arrests could be coming, though interrogations have stalled because of a language barrier between the suspects and police, Vaughn said.

Police have charged the men - Nicolae Drasovian, 36, Marius Csapay, 44, both of Norcross, and Romulus Bacian, 38, of Duluth - with identity fraud and criminal possession of forgery devices.

Last October, officials with the bank announced they were offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the scam artists. Vaughn said the money won't be disbursed because a detective acted on a tip from bank security in catching the suspects.

A message left with a Washington Mutual spokesperson was not returned Tuesday.

A probable cause hearing for all three suspects is scheduled for Aug. 6 in Gwinnett Magistrate Court.