By EVAN BEVINS
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Two juveniles arrested Wednesday in Parkersburg are believed to be illegal immigrants from Romania involved in a criminal enterprise to steal credit card information and cash.
Police continue to search for two to three other suspects in what Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin called a “very organized criminal effort.”
Martin said a 17-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl were stopped around 1 p.m. Wednesday on Camden Street after they were observed traveling at a high rate of speed in a 2001 PT Cruiser bearing a one-way registration tag from Texas.
The driver told police he and his passenger were illegal immigrants from Romania, on their way to New York.
The Vienna Police Department responded with a K-9 unit, which indicated on the vehicle. Instead of illicit drugs, a search revealed between 40 and 50 manufactured credit cards, cash, Smartphone camera devices, tools, glue guns, soldering guns and skimmers, devices that record credit card information, Martin said.
Criminals install skimmers, with batteries, inside devices like ATMs or card-readers on gas pumps, where they record information from the cards inserted, the chief said. The Smartphone cameras are also installed and attached to a battery, then take photos through a small hole made in the card reader’s casing to record a person inputting their personal identification number.
Once recovered, the card information is downloaded to the magnetic strip on another card, often a prepaid one, then used in conjunction with the PIN to access accounts via ATMs.
“Some of the cards that were used were from local victims,” Martin said. “It potentially could be thousands of dollars” stolen, just locally.
Some of the materials were found in a box taped in a bag and partially concealed beneath the skirt of the 14-year-old girl, who was also wearing blue jeans.
Officers “questioned her about it,” Martin said. “She (spoke) very little English, if any at all.”
The juveniles provided police with “fake Romanian ID tags,” he said.
After communicating with federal agencies, including the Secret Service, FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, investigators were able to determine the 17-year-old had been deported twice from Arizona and has deportation proceedings pending out of Boston, Martin said.
The girl has not been identified beyond the name she gave police, he said.
“They say they’re from Romania,” Martin said. “They got into the country through Mexico.”
The two juveniles were living in Florida, Martin said.
The chief said the youths have apparently never attended school in this country and seem to be here for the sole purpose of committing crimes.
“They’re very crafty. They’re very smart. They know what to say, what not to say,” he said.
Martin said other people involved in the scheme likely use the kids because they know children are handled differently than other people in the criminal justice system.
About an hour before the juveniles were apprehended, police received a report of suspicious individuals gathered around an ATM “for about an hour” at the 7-Eleven at 3000 Emerson Ave., Martin said. They left in a blue minivan with temporary registration before police arrived.
It is believed they were using manufactured cards to withdraw money, Martin said.
“We’re pretty convinced that they were related,” he said.
The men were initially described as Mexican but Martin said they may be European.
He said the operation is like a more technologically advanced version of “gypsy”schemes that used to be perpetrated by similar groups.
“They’ve moved on from selling you rugs and blacktop to being more covert and stealing your identities, credit card numbers,” he said.
The case remains under investigation.
The youths had a detention hearing Thursday in Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton’s courtroom. They are in custody at a juvenile detention center.
Martin said people should monitor their bank accounts carefully for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals. ATMs or other machines that have been tampered with could show signs of stress where they have been bent or pried, or glue where coverings have been replaced.
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