PONCHATOULA, LA (WVUE) - A multi-agency effort has identified two Romanian nationals believed to be installing credit card skimming devices in ATMs and gas pumps across the state and southern region.
On Feb. 10, the Ponchatoula Police Department was notified about suspicious activity on customers' accounts with the Whitney Bank on West Pine Street.
Through the Ponchatoula Criminal Investigations Division, led by Chief Bry Layrisson, the department was contacted by a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes detective also working several cases possibly linked to the skimmer found at the Ponchatoula Whitney Bank.
A separate skimming device was also found at the Baton Rouge TELCO Credit Union on University Drive in Hammond, according to Layrisson.
TPSO, Hammond Police, Ponchatoula PD and the Lafayette Police department combined investigations with Louisiana State Police and identified 17-year-old Stan Giovani and 23-year-old Ilie Margel, both of Houston, Texas, as suspects.
Layrrison said Giovani was captured by Lafayette officers while he was attempting to put a skimmer on an ATM. Margel remains at large.
Unlike other skimming devices, the skimmers can't be discovered by simply pulling on the credit card reader on an ATM or gas pump.
"If you yank it, it's not coming off," Layrrison said. "A lot these banks now are unfortunately having to train their tellers on what to look for when they're going out and making deposits or putting money in the ATMs so they know what they are looking for. But the average citizen or me, the police chief, I don't think that I would be able to notice one."
The devices found also had a camera inside in order to combine the card numbers with associated PIN numbers, according to Layrrison.
"It's all operated off of a battery about the size of the battery that is in your cell phone," Layrrison said.
Giovani and Margel are accused of doing this dozens of times along the interstate corridor from Miami to Houston, as well as Shreveport and Texarkana.
Law enforcement believe the men are a part of a much larger crime ring.
"We have state and federal authorities investigating this now, and obviously we are trying to go from the bottom to the top of this ring," Layrrison said. "Other countries' law enforcement) usually turn them over to us and allow us to extradite them, but it's just a matter of cooperation and communication with them for them to put their hands on them for us so that we can go get them."
The Romanian nationals were taking between $500-$700 each time they withdrew money from someone's account.
Chief Layrrison warns people to check their bank statements online weekly to check for theft.
Giovani has been booked with violation of the anti-skimming act, identity theft, access device fraud and bank fraud.