Romanian mob coming for your debit cards using ATM-style skimmers at self-checkouts: authorities say

Stills from surveillance video show suspects installing skimming devices over the credit card swiper at a grocery store cash register. Inset: An El Cajon, California, police officer holds a skimmer next to an authentic device to show the similarities

The Romanian mafia is carrying out debit card skimming schemes by putting devices on self-checkout machines in stores to steal consumers' personal information. 

Prosecutors in California are spreading the word to warn the public about the manner in which the mob is operating.

Some counties in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Santa Barbara, have seen roughly 15% of the Romanian mob activity in the U.S.

RELATED: Major supermarket chain alerts customers to information breach after discovering skimmer devices

In addition to sending stolen money back to Romania to fund luxe lifestyles and European sports cars, the crooks are also trading in food stamps for baby formula and energy drinks, which are resold in Mexico with local cartels.

How are the scammers carrying out the ATM skimming crimes?

Kimberly Edds, the director of public affairs with the Orange County District Attorney's Office, tells FOX News that the criminals will sit outside a Walmart or Target making shoppers think they are panhandling, and occasionally will have a few kids working with them in the scheme. 

Edds explains to FOX News that the criminals use Bluetooth technology connected to the ATM skimming devices in the stores where the mob can obtain money that shoppers give them while stealing the debit card numbers off the skimmers. 


The thieves' tools and partially assembled skimming devices are shown. (FBI)

Skimming devices can also target EBT card users too, which has resulted in over $100 million worth of thefts robbing taxpayer-funded welfare programs and recipients, FOX News reported, citing Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer's office.

The El Cajon Police Department obtained surveillance video that shows individuals placing a skimming device over a store checkout’s credit card swipe instantly to make it look authentic.  

Authorities explain to FOX News that consumers should tug on a credit card swipe before inserting their card, and if it wobbles or falls off, the terminal is fake. 

Have police captured people involved in the ATM skimming crimes?

FOX News reports that police have busted dozens of people, many of them connected to organized crime in Romania. 

Authorities have made large busts of these people linked to these crimes in December and January in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico but tell FOX news that these individuals are "doubling down on their efforts," leading to a rise in the crimes, with many of them capable of stealing up to $9 million a month.

Among the people captured in the thefts was Florin Duduianu, a man on Romania’s most wanted list. The other was a 14-year-old who police caught driving a $250,000 sports car and wearing a Rolex.


Skimmers using Bluetooth technology can be concealed behind name plates and other nondescript areas of a register, gas pump or ATM, as these FBI images show. (FBI)

Duduianu, 39, was convicted in January after cops spotted him making withdrawals using different cards from the same ATM in Placentia, California, which is roughly 30 miles from Los Angeles, according to FOX News. 

Police caught Duduianu with four Visa gift cards cloned from four victims’ debit cards. 

Citing the Justice Department, FOX News noted that Duduianu is expected to get 30 years in prison when he’s sentenced this week. 

FOX News reported that many of the people arrested in Romania had connections to the Riviera Maya gang, which is blamed for millions of dollars in skimming thefts in tourist attractions popular with Americans like Cancun and Tulum. 


The FBI recovered these cloned debit cards with the victims' PIN numbers and cash totals written on them. (FBI)

Floridan Tudo, who is the gang leader, is awaiting trial on fraud charges in Mexico and is wanted for attempted murder in Romania. 

In 2023, the FBI announced a collaboration with Romanian police to raid locations in the European country linked to California skimming crimes. The operation led to 48 arrests and the recovery of over $1 million and 11 luxury cars. 

FOX News contributed to this report.  This story was reported from Washington, D.C.