Six people charged with stealing $300,000 in card skimming fraud at BJ’s, Bank Newport and Walmart

Six people charged with stealing 0,000 in card skimming fraud at BJ’s, Bank Newport and Walmart

The thieves were arrested at BJ’s Wholesale Clubs stores in Johnston and Warwick, as well as in Seekonk, Mass., at Walmart stores in Coventry, and at Walmart stores in Walpole, Avon and Raynham, Mass. Local police were able to recover some of the devices, which are now being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.

According to the special agent who investigated the case, the scheme extended beyond southern New England. BJ’s Wholesale Club alone also discovered skimming devices in 22 locations between May and August 2023, including Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

A credit card is swiped at a Walmart supermarket in North Bergen, New Jersey, in September 2015. The New York Times

Here’s how the scheme works. Criminals use skimming devices to secretly record account information from credit and debit cards used at checkouts and ATMs. They install the device on top of, or even inside, a card reader so that no one notices it’s there. In some cases, the devices are used with a camera built into the device or separate from it. The camera focuses on the card reader’s keypad and can capture images of the person entering their PIN.

Criminals who use these data-stealing devices often leave them installed for a short period of time and then retrieve them. They can then transfer the stolen account information stored on debit or credit cards to a computer or other electronic storage device. The participants then associate this information with corresponding PINs. They can also use Bluetooth technology to transfer the stolen information from the device to a computer, allowing them to download the stolen information without removing the device.

They can also create fake debit or credit cards by transferring information from a real card to fake cards, then use the fake cards to withdraw money from someone’s bank or business account.

This group, according to US Attorney Zachary Cunha, is behind it all.

“The scale, scope, and brazen nature of these defendants’ scheme to steal unsuspecting consumers’ financial account information and use it to appropriate funds and property, as we have alleged in federal court, is staggering,” Cunha said in a statement Tuesday. “I applaud the superb work of Homeland Security Investigations, as well as our local law enforcement partners, for their diligent and effective work to dismantle this network of thieves and ensure those responsible are brought to justice in federal court.”

Although the allegations are all focused on the East Coast, the alleged conspirators all live in California. And none of them are believed to be in the United States.

Most of them will appear Tuesday and Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Providence to answer federal charges related to the alleged conspiracy.

Armando Ion Codreanu, 23, of Placentia, California, is an Irish citizen. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, he entered the country illegally to work. He was arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee, in April and charged with identity theft and attempted theft while in possession of ATM cash-stealing equipment and burglary tools.

Codreanu is charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Isabela Ignat Codreanu, 23, of Anaheim and Placentia, California, a Romanian citizen, was arrested in 2018 and 2021 and charged with illegally entering the United States. She is charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

Robby Vicson Codreanu, 20, of Placentia, Calif., a British citizen who entered the United States illegally, is also charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud. He was arrested in April in Knoxville and charged with identity theft and attempted theft while in possession of credit card theft equipment and burglary tools.

Mila Ciuciu, 20, of Placentia, California, a Romanian citizen, was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police in 2022 and charged with retail theft. She is now charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

Nicolas Longin Codreanu, 21, of Placentia, California, a Romanian and Irish citizen, is charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was convicted in March in California after a 2020 arrest for burglary and fraudulent use of a scanning device while operating ATMs. He also had a fake ID. He was also arrested last November in California for burglary and possession of burglary tools.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ionut Zamfir, 37, of Los Angeles, who is a Romanian citizen. Zamfir is charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was arrested in 2022 on charges of illegally entering the United States.

Surveillance videos at various stores and banks captured different members of the group working together to install and remove the devices and use counterfeit cards.

At big box stores, one of them would install the verification devices on the self-checkout machines, while two others would hold the bags or groceries to hide what they were doing. At the ATMs, several members of the group would do their work in the early morning hours, driving or walking to the ATMs and installing the devices.

As a result, thousands of people used these ATMs or cash registers and unwittingly disclosed their bank account information, federal authorities said.

“These six individuals are members of an organization that has defrauded thousands of Rhode Islanders and residents of their hard-earned money. The credit card theft and point-of-sale equipment they used worked quickly and efficiently to steal credit card information, allowing them to clone and illegally access credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial accounts of unsuspecting victims,” said Michael J. Krol, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New England.

At Bank Newport, for example, 108 customers’ cards were compromised, and 22 of them reported unauthorized transactions totaling more than $17,000.

Westerly Community Credit Union discovered that $279,250 had been stolen from 44 different accounts last December. The bank became aware of what had happened after an elderly couple called police to report that $25,000 had been stolen from their account, according to the affidavit.

At Walmart stores in Coventry and Warwick, nearly 5,000 credit or debit cards, or EBTs, were swiped through registers equipped with the skimming devices. More than 9,000 cards were swiped through the skimming devices at Walmart stores in Massachusetts, in Quincy, North Attleboro, Raynham and Avon.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald R. Gendron. The Department of Homeland Security Investigations and Bristol Police Department conducted the investigation, with assistance from Warwick, Coventry, Westerly, Johnston, Seekonk police and the U.S. Secret Service.


You can contact Amanda Milkovits at [email protected]. Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.