Credit card fraudsters attempted almost 400 ATM withdrawals

The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town.
The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town.

Five people who conspired to defraud local banks attempted to use cloned credit cards almost 400 times within a four-day period, Crown counsel Toyin Salako said in Grand Court on Tuesday.

There were 59 attempts to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines at Butterfield Bank, but most were unsuccessful, she reported. Sums totalling $1,800 were obtained.

There were 340 attempted withdrawals from Cayman National Bank, she said. The total amount obtained was $16,675 in 51 fraudulent transactions that succeeded. If all of the attempts had succeeded, the withdrawals would have added up to $96,765.

Ms. Salako was explaining the case against Romanian nationals Ovidui-Giulian Dobrea, 40, Ionut-Catalin Petcu, 27, and Marius-Ioan Bud-Popa, 42; Ayoub Cheaaibi, 22, a British national; and Nytia Tynea Bradley, 26, an American.

They pleaded guilty last week to conspiring together with persons unknown to defraud the banks by dishonestly withdrawing cash from ATMs with the use of cloned credit cards between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3. Individually, they pleaded guilty to various charges of converting criminal property – cash withdrawn – by using it to make purchases at local stores. Other related charges were also admitted.

Ms. Salako noted that all of the withdrawals from ATMs had been in Cayman Islands currency, as at the time there had been a freeze on U.S. cash withdrawals.

After hearing details of the offenses and mitigation from defense attorneys, Justice Alastair Malcolm said he would pass sentence on Friday afternoon, March 18.

Ms. Salako explained that on Nov. 2, CNB staff reported that two U.K. store cards and two gift cards had been retained by ATMs. Genuine credit card data can be embossed onto a gift card’s magnetic strip by means of a swipe device with the stolen genuine data downloaded from information on a computer.

Closed circuit television cameras showed images of Cheeaibi and Bradley, alone or together, using the cards.

A CNB employee who saw the two on the street followed them to a downtown jewelry store. Police were notified and investigations led to the other defendants. They had all been staying in adjacent rooms at Treasure Island Resort.

Items found included cloned credit cards with genuine card data on magnetic strips, two laptop computers, cellphones and a small remote camera used to record customer transactions at ATMs. Cash seized totalled CI$12,342 and US$1,202.

One of the laptops seized contained credit card data. Police were able to retrieve messages from a “Mr. B” who gave instructions on how to make the withdrawals. Mr. B said if the defendants were greedy and tried to withdraw a card’s daily limit, “the card will die sooner.”

They were also told to “keep trying” with rejected cards.

The amount of money obtained did not lessen the defendants’ criminality, Ms. Salako suggested, because they intended great harm to Cayman and the banking community. Their offending highlighted the vulnerability of the credit card system, she said. “Before 2013, we did not have this kind of offending in the Cayman Islands,” she said.

Ms. Salako submitted that the Cayman Islands were being deliberately targeted because of weaknesses as far as credit card withdrawals from ATMs were concerned.

Discussions with Mr. B made reference to London time and card daily limits expressed in British pounds. Ms. Salako said the passports and fingerprints of all five defendants were sent to the U.K. and authorities there provided information as to previous convictions.

Dobrea and Bradley had none; the other three had various convictions for dishonesty.

All five have been in custody since their arrest.