Two Russian-speaking Slavic males appeared in Dallas County District Court this week in connection with their arrest in November for allegedly skimming payment information from more than 100 bank card holders across Iowa, with half their victims stung at one West Des Moines credit union.
Vasile Cristei, 37, of no fixed abode was charged in Dallas County District Court with ongoing criminal activity and five counts of illegal use of a scanning device.
Ruslan Negruta, 38, of no fixed abode was charged in Dallas County District Court with ongoing criminal activity and five counts of illegal use of a scanning device.
The suspects were arrested Nov. 16 by officers of the North Liberty Police Department, according to a story in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Cristei was charged with illegal use of a scanning device and malicious prosecution. Negruta was charged with illegal use of a scanning device.
Cristei allegedly gave law enforcement officers fake Ukrainian documents, identifying himself as Aleksea Sovaonov, and he was charged under that name until his true identity was discovered, according to the Courier report.
Negruta also falsely identified himself and was originally charged as Nino Dangelo until his true identity was discovered.
According to court records, Negruta was observed Nov. 12 placing a camera above an ATM located at the Collins Community Credit Union at 6260 Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines.
The camera was placed above the keypad of the ATM in such a way as to capture the PIN codes associated with the payment cards as they were used by customers at the ATM. The camera was used in conjunction with a scanning device that was inserted into the ATM to obtain and store the information encoded on payment cards.
Skimmers are designed to record information from a credit card or bank card’s magnetic strip. Thieves place the electronic devices over cards slots at ATMs. After unsuspecting people use the ATMs, the culprits return and download the data, which can be used to create duplicate cards. The small cameras are used to record people entering their PIN numbers.
Other card skimmers were found at banks and credit unions in Cedar Falls in Black Hawk County, North Liberty in Johnson County and Des Moines in Polk County. North Liberty officers detained Cristei and Negruta when they returned to collect the device, according to court records.
The investigation revealed that between Nov. 8 and Nov. 11, Negruta and Cristei obtained payment card information from 102 victims by placing scanning devices and cameras at four ATMs in Iowa. Fifty-one victims’ information was obtained from the West Des Moines ATM.
Officers of the Boone Police Department executed a search warrant on Nov. 20 at 814 Eighth St. in Boone, the location of an Airbnb occupied by Negruta and Cristei prior to their Nov. 16 arrest. The search disclosed “13 Visa Vanilla gift cards” and “multiple scanning devices,” according to court records.
Five of the Visa Vanilla cards were found to be encoded with payment card information that was stolen from the victims via the scanning device in West Des Moines.
Cristei is held in the Johnson County Jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond. He is scheduled for arraignment Feb. 9 in Dallas County District Court.
Negruta is held in the Johnson County Jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond. He is scheduled for arraignment Feb. 9 in Dallas County District Court.
* A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.