The leader of an ATM skimming ring with international ties pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to charges of bank fraud, conspiracy, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors say 53-year-old Ismail Sali of Kirkland and his conspirators used pinhole cameras and other high-tech devices to steal account information from bank customers and then used the information to drain the accounts.
Dozens of ATMs were hit in the operation, including BECU machines in Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Woodinville and Sumner, and a Shell service station ATM in Kirkland, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Much of the money that was stolen went overseas to Sali's associates in Romania, according to a Justice Department news release. According to his plea agreement, Sali has agreed to pay restitution of $357,256. A prison sentence between six and eight years will be recommended, the news release states.
During a 2011 search at Sali's Kirkland home, investigators found various equipment for making and installing skimming devices, along with documents that tied Sali to other skimming suspects. Three of these defendents, including of Renton and of Kirkland, have already been sentenced for their roles in the skimming ring.
The Secret Service and U.S. Attorney's Office has offered the following tips on avoiding skimming machines:
- If the access door to a lobby ATM is broken, don’t use the ATM; go somewhere else.
- If there is more than one ATM, and a sign has been placed on one of the units saying it is out of service, go somewhere else. The sign could be an attempt to direct traffic to the machine where skimming equipment is installed.
- Check the machine before putting your card in—is the card slot securely in the machine? Has anything been installed around the edges of the machine that could conceal a camera? Is any glue or sticky substance around the key pad or card slot?
- Always attempt to cover your hand when you enter your PIN so that if there is a camera, the numbers cannot be captured.
- Watch your account activity and report any unauthorized credit or debit charges immediately.
—Information from a Justice Department news release and U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie