Chase ATM Skimmer Sentenced5-Year Jail Term Plus Restitution for Four-State Scheme
A U.S. District Court last week handed down a five-year prison sentence and five years of supervised release to a Seattle man who targeted and compromised Chase Bank ATMs in four western states. Authorities say the skimming spree ultimately hit more than 2,000 accounts and cost banks and their customers more than $435,000.
Some 639 victims were defrauded by Beneyam Asrat G-Sellassie, who at the time of his arrest in June 2011 was 22 years old, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District Of Washington.
In addition to jail time, the court also ordered G-Sellassie to pay more than $400,000 in restitution for the fraud he perpetrated with stolen debit card numbers and PINs.
Skimming Case Trends
Targeting specific ATM makes and models is common, experts say. The fact that G-Sellassie aimed his fraud strikes at only Chase ATMs is not surprising. Once fraudsters create a skimmer for a specific type of ATM, it's much easier for them to remove the skimmer from one machine and quickly place it on another.
John Buzzard, who monitors card fraud for FICO's Card Alert Service, says the jail time and fine given to G-Sellassie are steeper than sentences handed down in earlier, similar skimming cases. He's pleased to see tougher sentences and more apparent interest among investigators and prosecutors in pursuing legal action against those who perpetrate ATM fraud.
"These crimes affect real citizens with kids to feed and bills to pay," Buzzard says. "When you take this into consideration, as they did in the Seattle case, you end up with a more suitable fine with jail time. It's refreshing to see these cases treated with stiffer penalties."
Connecting the Fraud Dots
Investigators linked G-Sellassie to more than 30 ATM skimming incidents in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. When he was arrested in Seattle, G-Sellassie had in his possession 22 gift cards that had been re-encoded with stolen debit account numbers.
"He was not merely a minor or reluctant participant, but rather a key player who staunchly pressed the criminal enterprise and, by early 2011, it appears, was running his own crew of ATM skimmers," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
G-Sellassie was busted after his image was captured on camera as he installed a skimming device on a Chase ATM in South Seattle, according to court records. Branch security personnel notified police that G-Sellassie was attempting to make withdrawals using compromised account information stolen from Las Vegas customers.
Investigators say G-Sellassie also posted signs on nearby ATMs, claiming they were out of order and directing cardholders to compromised machines.