Two men from Romania have been charged by Frazer police with stealing credit card information by installing a skimming device in a self-service checkout lane at the Sam’s Club store in Pittsburgh Mills.
They may be responsible for doing the same at Sam’s Club stores in Monroeville, West Mifflin and Butler Township, where card skimmers were also found, Frazer Police Chief Terry Kuhns said.
Colceag Constantin, 41, and Raul-Mihani Cojucaru, 40, have been charged with access device fraud and criminal association. They are being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of cash bond of $25,000 each and will face a preliminary hearing on June 6 before District Judge David Sosovicka.
Police say the skimmer was discovered Thursday when an employee attempted to pay for an item and the “1” button on the keypad did not work, according to a criminal complaint.
Store security video from May 16 shows Cojucaru using a cart full of paper towels and toilet paper to block the view of employees while Constantin mounted the device above the regular card reader, according to the complaint.
The skimmers are designed to look like a regular store credit card reader. They sit on top of the existing card reader to capture and store information so it can be retrieved later by thieves, Kuhns said.
Before being arrested, the men twice returned to the store to retrieve information via a Bluetooth connection, he said.
“Our hope is that they weren’t able to take the information gathered about the skimmers and put it on the internet before we arrested them,” Kuhns said. “My advice to anyone who used a self-service payment lane at Sam’s Club between May 15 and the time these suspects were arrested is to closely monitor their credit card statements for any indication of fraud. “
The chief said people should continue to check their statements carefully as there is often a gap between when card information is stolen and when it is sold.
Kuhns said investigators were able to obtain the license plate number of the SUV the two men were driving from security video. They traced the vehicle to a rental company in Kearny, NJ
After a description of the vehicle was issued to area police departments, Constantin and Cojucaru were arrested along Route 8 on Friday by officers from the Northern Regional Police Department.
A black and yellow jacket that one of the men was wearing in the store’s security video was found in the car with items purchased on the date they are accused of placing the skimmer in the store, according to the complaint.
Police executed a search warrant Saturday at the Ross Township motel where the men were staying and confiscated multiple laptops, external storage devices and fake IDs, Kuhns said.
Police said Constantin and Cojucaru had driving licenses, issued in the UK, when they were arrested. Their identity as Romanian nationals was confirmed by the passports found in their motel room.
Asked by investigators about the devices, Constantin told them, “I know what I did. I can’t deny it,” according to the complaint.
Kuhns said the two men flew from Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle, then flew to New York before traveling to New Jersey to rent the vehicle and drive west to New York. Pennsylvania.
“We’re still researching where they were, but it’s pretty safe to assume they placed skimmers in other stores along the way,” he said.
Kuhns said Monroeville, West Mifflin and Butler Township police are investigating whether card skimmers discovered at other Sam’s Club stores in the past few days were planted there by Constantine and Cojucaru.
He said some Walmart stores use the same model of credit card readers found in Sam’s Club stores.
“The skimmers should look like the ones they’re placed on or they’ll be easily noticed,” Kuhns said. “And they always put them in the queues at the self-checkout machines to reduce the chances of them being discovered.”
Monroeville Police Chief Doug Cole confirmed his department recovered a card-skimming device from a Sam’s Club gas pump along the William Penn Highway.
“At this time, we have no charges pending. It’s still under investigation,” Cole said. “We are aware of the skimmers they caught in Frazer Township. We believe they are (connected).
A Butler Township officer said his department was investigating an incident at a Sam’s Club in Moraine Pointe Plaza but would not provide further details.
West Mifflin Police did not respond to a message seeking comment.
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