Mustang gives ATM fraud suspects away
CEBU CITY—Three Romanian nationals tagged as suspects in the hacking of an automated teller machine (ATM) in a Philippine government-owned bank had given themselves away with one of the most easily visible means crime suspects could betray themselves—a flashy, red Ford Mustang.
The hacking, which involved the insertion of a skimming device in the ATMs at the bank’s branches here, had led to a series of unauthorized withdrawals that stole funds from the accounts of government employees including soldiers, policemen, a prosecutor and a retired judge.
The Romanians—Ionut Alexandru Mitrache, Costel Ion and Razvan Aurelian Stancu—were arrested on Friday after the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas traced the ownership of the muscle car used by the suspects caught on security camera footage.
Images of the three Romanians were also captured in the footage installed near some of the ATMs of Land Bank of the Philippines in this city, and the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.
The footage showed them using a Mustang with conduction sticker I0I414, indicating it was brand new.
Through records at the Land Transportation Office, the vehicle’s owners were traced in a condominium here where the Romanians had been staying, said Florante Gaoiran of the regional NBI office.
“While conducting surveillance operations, we validated the presence of the vehicle and the suspects in that condominium,” he said.
NBI agents went to the condominium around 11 a.m. on Friday and waited for the Romanians to arrive.
Mitrache and Ion arrived first, aboard the red Mustang. They were followed by Stancu after a few minutes.
“We invited them for questioning to shed light [on] why they were using the same vehicle seen on the CCTV footage,” Gaoiran said.
“At first, they refused but they eventually went with us,” he said.
The NBI applied for a search warrant to enter the unit that the suspects had been renting for P100,000 a month.
Judge Generosa Labra of the Regional Trial Court Branch 23 in Cebu City granted the request on Friday afternoon.
Armed with the warrant, the agents barged into the Romanians’ unit around 6 p.m.
Found inside were 45 micro card readers, two laptops and improvised ATM cards.
Also recovered was a polo shirt which appeared to be the same one worn by one of the Romanians captured on security camera.
The NBI also took the red Mustang to be used as evidence.
Charges of violating Republic Act No. 8484 (Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998) would be filed against the Romanians at the Cebu City prosecutors’ office today.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Mitrache denied the allegations and claimed they were victims of mistaken identity.
“We’re innocent. We’re not involved with this one. No one of us is involved in this,” he said in an interview at the NBI stockade where the Romanians were detained.
Mitrache, 31, said they came to Cebu last month for business. “We are investors,” he said. He did not elaborate.
Gaoiran appealed to skimming victims to come to the NBI office and file a formal complaint against the suspects.
“I understand the case to be filed against them is bailable. But if there are many complainants, that would also increase the amount that they need to pay,” he said.
Contrary to what Mitrache said, records at the condominium where the suspects stayed showed that they came to Cebu about a year ago.
“If that’s the case, there is a possibility that they have been skimming ATMs for a year now,” Gaoiran said.
The NBI would ask the Bureau of Immigration and the court to issue a hold departure order against the suspects.