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Romanian nationals jailed for card skimming

Two Romanian nationals have been sent to jail in Auckland for card skimming.

They were sentenced in Auckland's District Court for importing and possessing card skimming equipment. The equipment was used to obtain credit card details of more than 122 New Zealanders, and to steal approximately $75,380 from many of them.

Ionut Alexandru Oprescu, 31, was sentenced to two years, five months imprisonment, and Victor Ionut Ghenadi, 36, was sentenced to three years imprisonment. 

They arrived in Auckland from Dubai in November 2019, and are believed to have ties with international criminal syndicates.

Both men were convicted for importing devices for a dishonest purpose, altering documents with intent to obtain by deception, manufacturing goods with intent to facilitate a crime involving dishonesty, and dishonestly using a document. Ghenadi was also convicted for money laundering. 

Customs commenced an investigation in January 2020 after a tip-off from a courier driver led to the seizure of two packages sent from London. The packages were declared as a musical box and a laptop without hard disk, but hid card skimming devices.

Quick action identified the two men, leading to a search of their place of residence in January 2020 and their subsequent arrest.

Oprescu was caught trying to hide items in the roof cavity when Customs and Police officers raided the mens rented Hobson street apartment. A large number of parts, tools and equipment used to make card skimming devices, a completed and functional skimming device, blank cards, and a card writer machine were also found.

Hidden inside Ghenadi's pillow were numerous cards such as Bonfire, Smiggle, JB Hi-Fi and Countdown / AA Smartfuel cards that were loaded with financial information linked to victims' credit cards. Ghenadi was caught at a local restaurant with a loaded Farmers card in his wallet, and a search of his rented car found the moulding clay used to assemble the skimming devices.

Electronic forensic analysis of the men's phones located images of various bank ATMs, and carpark and petrol station payment machines. A USB hard drive attached to a pinhole camera, found in the apartment, showed videos of people entering their pin access codes while using a machine.

Analysis of their computer recovered 122 bank card numbers, which provided evidence of the $75,380 that was stolen from many victims. In addition, bank deposit slips and chat conversations showed that between mid-December 2019 and mid-January 2020, $43,550 of the $75,380 was cashed and deposited into an account to be converted into cryptocurrency.

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry says card skimming is a global problem.

"These men travelled to New Zealand with the sole purpose of committing fraud, and they had no qualms about stealing funds from hard-working New Zealanders," Berry says.

"Customs works closely with law enforcement and industry partners to prevent exactly this type of illegal behaviour. Quick and collaborative work by Customs and others ensured that many more innocent people did not lose their money," he says.

The two packages that hid the skimming devices were actually addressed to the homes of innocent occupiers, which is a common method used by criminals for smuggling illegal commodities such as drugs, tobacco and skimming equipment.

Berry says in this case a special thanks goes to the courier driver and company. The driver refused to hand over a package, when approached on the street by one of the men trying to collect it. The courier company then quickly alerted Customs, which triggered the investigation.

"Customs works closely with courier companies to ensure they are aware of known criminal behaviours. By advising Customs of suspicious deliveries, as occurred in this case, they have played an important part in helping to protect our communities."