Boston Cops Bust Sophisticated ATM Scammer

Police said a thief used secretly installed bank card readers and spy cameras to record passwords and steal at least $400,000 from more than 400 ATM users over the past two years.

Ioan Emil Codarcea (search), 35, was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on charges including identity fraud, credit card fraud, and larceny.

Codarcea, a Romanian with alleged ties to Russian organized crime, allegedly installed the cameras and magnetic card readers on ATM machines in several communities, including Canton, Cambridge, Needham, Wellesley and Woburn.

The phony magnetic card readers were placed on doors leading to the ATM machines, or mounted on the actual machines. They recorded the card information while the tiny cameras focused on the ATM keypad, capturing customer passwords and transmitting the images to Codarcea's laptop computer, police said.

Codarcea allegedly used the bank card information to make duplicate magnetic strips, which he stuck on his own ATM cards. Then he and several accomplices withdrew money from bank machines in Boston and along Route 1.

Detective Steven Blair said the scam, known as skimming (search), is becoming increasingly common.

"Too many people are getting the hang of this stuff," he said. "You can buy the equipment for under $1,000, and it's all available on eBay."

Most customers didn't know money was being siphoned from their accounts until their bank notified them. Police wouldn't release the names of the banks involved and said the customers were reimbursed.

Codarcea was arrested May 1 by the U.S. Border Patrol (search) while allegedly trying to smuggle illegal Pakistani immigrants into Vermont from Canada. He was turned over to Boston police on Monday.

Police said the scam began in March 2003. They wouldn't detail how they were led to Codarcea, but said they trailed him and took photos of him installing and retrieving the magnetic card readers loaded with account data. Codarcea also allegedly struck in Manchester, N.H.