The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Police Department and other local authorities announced the arrests of four people in connection with a scam discovered two weeks ago that used hidden cameras and bank card “skimmers” to target MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) customers using ticket vending machines (TVMs) at locations in Nassau and Queens Counties.
Cameras and skimmers have also been discovered on Metro-North Railroad TVMs in Chappaqua, and investigators are continuing to search for more scamming devices to determine the full scope of the scam.
Seized evidence includes thousands of debit and credit card numbers of Nassau, Queens and Westchester residents, many of which come from compromised TVMs. Skimmed debit card account numbers, PIN numbers and credit card numbers are being analyzed to see to what extent they were used to steal money from people's accounts and financial institutions. So far, one bank has reported thousands of dollars of losses on more than 50 accounts.
Investigators have been in contact with banks to notify them of the scam so that they can notify their customers and verify losses. MTA officials warned customers of the scam on October 18 and have since checked all 278 TVMs in the LIRR system to verify there are no cameras or skimmers in place and will continue checks on an ongoing basis.
An initial precautionary check of all 277 TVMs in the Metro-North system found no cameras or skimmers, but three were later found at the Chappaqua station on a subsequent check. Both railroads are continuing to check all their TVMs at 115 LIRR stations and 95 Metro-North stations in case more scam devices are placed there.
A husband and wife were arrested Monday night when they were observed retrieving two skimmer devices and two hidden cameras from TVMs at the Sea Cliff LIRR station, not knowing that MTA Police had been secretly watching the station for more than 72 hours.
Further investigation led to an apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, where MTA Police arrested two men believed to be technicians and managers of the scam and began, with the assistance of NCPD CAP Squad, analyzing computer equipment to further understand the scope of the scam.
“While we are grateful to the MTA Police for their quick work on this case, we must advise customers to be extra vigilant when using their credit or debit cards. Always safeguard your personal information like your PIN number and report any suspicious activity,” said Helena E. Williams, LIRR president. “LIRR crews are also on alert, checking to make sure our ticket vending machines are safe to use.”
The pinhole cameras used in the scam were hidden inside black metal strips custom-molded to look like a standard part of the TVM and mounted above the keypad for entering PIN codes and the slot where bank cards are inserted. MTA Police and the LIRR’s TVM crews inspected all 278 machines and found nine devices installed at the Sea Cliff, Bayside, Great Neck, Merillon Avenue and Greenvale stations.
MTA Police and Nassau PD Crimes Against Property Squad detectives used specialized cyber-forensics to analyze the cameras and learn how they worked, in conjunction with plastic skimmers placed over the bank card slots to capture information from their magnetic stripes.