Houston man arrested for ATM skimming in Kansas

Posted: Updated:
Vasile Serban Vasile Serban

Police in southern Kansas say they're awaiting the extradition of a suspect in the skimming of account information from ATMs late last year. 

Vasile Serban, 18, is being held in Texas on a warrant stemming from three incidents in Arkansas City in November and December. He was served with the warrant while he was in custody for related offenses and an immigration hold. 

The Arkansas City Police Department says Serban faces three counts of theft by deception, more than 100 counts of identity theft, and one count each of criminal damage to property and theft. 

Police shared on Twitter last month that the two people of interest might have been in Houston. The card information stolen by skimming devices was used there.

A skimmer is a device which is inserted into the card reader slot that steals data right off your card's magnetic strip. Police say if anyone's card information has been compromised, victims will be contacted. 

Ark City police thanked Homeland Security, the South Carolina State Police, the U.S. Secret Service and the Fort Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office for their assistance.

Incident details from police

On Dec. 20, 2018, an alert bank employee in Arkansas City located what was suspected to be a credit card skimming device on an ATM.

Officers responded to collect the device and quickly began checking other ATMs in the city. A second device was found a short time later, at a different bank.

The Arkansas City Police Department, with the cooperation of the affected banks, was able to distribute images of a male and female driving a red Volkswagen Jetta that morning.

No viable leads were uncovered at that time. Further investigation determined that the pair had successfully skimmed credit card information the day before and “cashed out” cloned credit cards in the Wichita area for nearly $18,000.

Also on Dec. 20, 2018, later in the day, officers took a report from Walmart that a male suspect had broken into the store’s iPhone display, removed an iPhone X Max and left the store without paying.

Surveillance video confirmed the description of the person who allegedly stole the iPhone matched that of a suspect from the credit card skimming incidents.

Investigators worked to secure video surveillance from several Wichita locations and were able to confirm that the same suspect was seen in all of the surveillance footage.

The male suspect, later identified as Serban, also had been captured on video surveillance from an earlier case reported to the Arkansas City Police Department in November 2018.

An Arkansas City bank reported on Nov. 8, 2018, that a person withdrew in excess of $7,000 from an ATM on numerous transactions. The accounts corresponded to a bank in Texas.

A comparison of the video surveillance showed the suspect from the December 2018 incidents. It was thought that the suspect had used cloned credit cards to execute the transactions.

A call to the police department reported that one of the skimmed accounts from Dec. 19, 2018, was used Dec. 31, 2018, at a convenience store in Houston. As a result, a local media outlet ran a story on its website with the updated information that the skimming suspects could be in the Houston area.

The department used its Twitter account to circulate the suspect’s picture again on Jan. 3, since the account has numerous followers in Texas.

Within a few days, investigators received a phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requesting more photos of the suspects. Once those were provided, the investigators established contacts with other members of the Department of Homeland Security, the South Carolina State Police, the United States Secret Service and the Fort Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office.

This network of investigators, who routinely work credit card skimming cases from the East coast to the Midwest, was able to determine the identity of the suspect quickly.

Upon confirming the identity of the suspect through federal records, Arkansas City investigators began to research the suspect’s background and found a history of financial crimes

It also was discovered that Serban possibly is tied to a string of iPhone thefts from retail outlets stretching from Chicago to Texas.

In coordination with the Houston Police Department and the Secret Service in Houston, the investigation began to narrow its focus to a specific neighborhood just a few blocks from the convenience store that had triggered the new lead.

Investigators received a call Jan. 31 from a San Marcos, Texas, detective who informed them that he had seen news articles and social media posts about these crimes, and that San Marcos police had stopped and arrested a suspect for possessing cloned credit cards and a device to make those cards.

The suspect’s name and date of birth matched the information gathered by Arkansas City police investigators and photographs confirmed the same.

Officers worked to secure an arrest warrant for Serban in connection with financial crimes and the theft of the iPhone from Walmart in Arkansas City. The department learned that an immigration hold had been placed on Serban, as well. The investigation will continue through Serban’s extradition to Kansas while investigators gather information from local residents who have fallen victim to credit card skimming.

Local banks will be contacting account holders whose information was compromised and ask them to contact the Arkansas City Police Department by phone or email, to enable the department to file identity theft charges for each individual account that was compromised. Additionally, the department will submit the two devices it collected to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to reveal data skimmed by both devices through midday on Dec. 20, 2018.

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.