Identity thieves steal over $200K from ATMs, McAllen PD says; hundreds of Mexican bank accounts were compromised, police say
MCALLEN, Jan 18, 2013 (The Monitor - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Hundreds of Mexican bank accounts were compromised by thieves who used area ATMs to steal more than $200,000, police said Thursday.
McAllen police arrested Mexican nationals Pedro Carillo Torres, 24, and Jose Luis Cardenas, 24, in connection to the scheme Wednesday. A third suspect, Jose Roberto Garza Alfaro remains at large. The men will face federal charges, police said.
"There's huge interest given the sophistication," McAllen police Chief Victor Rodriguez said, adding that experts in the field such as bankers have taken note.
McAllen police, along with the U.S. Secret Service, seized nearly 1,000 faked credit cards -- some blank with only a magnetic strip, others with individual names, account numbers and logos of Mexican banks Banamex and Banorte. At a Thursday news conference in McAllen, authorities displayed the stacks of fake cards alongside the suspects' passports as well as seized laptops, hard drives and embossing equipment they said the thieves used to load account data onto the cards. There were also photos of several suitcases full of cash, $211,000 in total, found in the suspects' possession and the car they used.
Authorities believe the men were provided the account information and continue to investigate the source.
"It's our suspicion that those are loaded up," Rodriguez said of the laptops and hard drives. "What we call the 'motherload' is in there because they have all the data; all the account information, all the PIN numbers."
Rodriguez said the department has seen cases of credit fraud before, but the fact that the thieves created the fake cards themselves was a new characteristic.
"We've seen some of that, which is basically part of the new day," he said. "This is modern capacity and therefore modern-day violations of the law."
Rodriguez did not cite the exact number of accounts stolen from, but said there were "hundreds upon hundreds." He said it appeared that most of the targeted individuals held Mexican bank accounts and local victims, if any, had not yet been discovered.
Authorities began to investigate the case Monday when banks in McAllen and the surrounding area reported suspicious activity. They noticed several ATMs were completely emptied of their cash, the chief said.
"That was the first clue that something was going on with these ATMs," he said.
Police also found that the targeted ATMs showed cash withdrawals of the same amount in rapid succession -- a second confirmation of a potential crime, the chief said.
A suspect vehicle, seen on low-quality surveillance video, was then identified.
McAllen police made a major break in the case Wednesday.
A car that looked like the suspects' vehicle, a Mercury Mountaineer, was spotted at an ATM at 23rd Street and Quince Avenue.
"One of our investigators on the case was on his way home, happened to just see it," the chief said.
Inside the car, police found Torres with dozens of the fake cards and he led officers to Cardenas. The men set up shop in a McAllen motel where police found them in possession of the equipment and cash.
"It's very obvious to us that they waited until the weekend -- come in, nobody's watching them. All they've got to do is just sit there as long as they can," Rodriguez said of the scam.
The suspects told police were operating out of Monterrey, where Cardenas is from. Torres is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Documents police found showed Alfaro is 23 years old and lists a Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, address. Authorities showed a picture of him taken from ATM surveillance and a local store's security system.
"We're hoping that (prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office) apply every applicable law to these guys as possible. ... Multiple federal charges and long prison terms," Rodriguez said.
A spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston said charges against the men will be specified when federal court documents are officially filed for the case.
Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4434.
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