Long Island’s $2 Million-a-year Counterfeiting Problem


Nassau detective holds up skimming device that was placed outside a Citibank location. (Photo: Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

“With the advent of cyber crimes…those have become more popular for criminals then going through the labor of trying to create counterfeit money,” says Doug Johnson, vice president of Risk Management Policy at the American Bankers Association (ABA).
“Even though the United States has been criticized…for not having as difficult a currency to counterfeit as some other countries,” he adds, “its still not the easiest thing in the world to do.”


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Tech-savvy criminals are now utilizing modern technology to their advantage, stealing people’s information on the Internet with one click of a finger, or installing “skimming” devices at ATMs—gadgets that steal users’ debit or credit card information when they make a transaction, sometimes involving the use of a hidden camera.

Skimming is a relatively quick crime to commit, making it far more fruitful than, say, committing a robbery, which nets an average of $3,000 to $4,000, while skimming device crimes can suck in between $30,000 to $50,000, says Johnson.

Banks are instrumental in the fight against counterfeiting. They check bills daily, either when they enter through shipments or in the form of customer deposits or when they’re handed over by customers—playing a critical role in curtailing the flow of bogus bills.

Banks know when they’re being robbed. But with skimming, a victim may have no clue until they read their bank statement, or find out when a check doesn’t clear.

Nassau County has seen “a tremendous amount of skimming cases,” says Diane Peress, of the district attorney’s Economic Crimes bureau.

With middle-income households dotting the Island from west to east, criminals see Long Island as an appetizing region for bank account numbers, she continues.

“Historically, you follow the money,” says Peress. “There’s a tremendous amount of middle-class and upper-class in these counties and also high-level stores.”

“Nassau County, and to a lesser Suffolk County, provide very attractive persons with credit and with good identity that a credit card theft or an identity theft would want to use,” she adds.

Skimming cases have “exploded” in Nassau, says Peress, adding that there’s one or two such cases a week this year, compared to just two a month last year.

Family members of law enforcement personnel are not safe, either.

Suffolk County police Deputy Inspector Kevin Fallon, the department’s chief spokesman, tells the Press that his own wife was victim of a skimming scheme when $500 was removed from her account at an ATM in Manhattan.

There was one problem: “We’re never in Manhattan,” says Fallon.

The fraudsters got her PIN and credit card number from an ATM in Nassau County through a skimming device and then used a fake card with her credit card number at a machine in the city.

During the investigation, police caught the perpetrator on video but “it was somebody who knew what he was doing because he was covered up,” says Fallon. “He had a baseball cap on pulled low over his face so you couldn’t identify him. That’s one of the problems with the whole skimming devices, that people often don’t know they’re victims of it, no idea until you see a bank statement.”

“And that’s assuming you’re sharp enough to pay attention to bank statements,” he adds.

“It’s done very quickly and they usually do it when the bank is closed because most banks have the vestibules and slide any card with a magnetic strip and you can get in it,” Det. Sgt. Dan Molloy of Suffolk’s Identity Theft unit tells the Press. “And it takes seconds to put up these cameras because the camera looks like a piece of molding that goes right above the keypad so it’s very hard to notice unless you really look at it.”

“Banks recognize it’s an important responsibility of theirs because it’s all about ensuring the customers,” adds Johnson of the ABA.

Banks also acknowledge that counterfeiting is still something they need to remain vigilant about.

A former assistant manager at a local bank who requested anonymity in order to talk freely about the bank’s security to thwart counterfeiting tells the Press fictitious money will enter the bank from time-to-time when a customer is depositing money or when a bulk cash shipment arrives.

It’s the interaction with the customer that can be the trickiest part of the ordeal—because the bank keeps the money and the customer walks away empty-handed.

“Once we determine if the bill is counterfeit, or even if we have a question about its authenticity,” he says, “we can’t give it back to them once it’s in our possession. As much as the customer hates us for taking it, we have to take the bill and process it and fill out a report and send it over to [Secret Service].”

That’s when customers typically get angry.

“If you take a step back and if you remove yourself from the conversation, it’s really just common sense, in my opinion. Because you gave us fake money we can’t give you credit for that fake money,” he adds. “And we have to report it, not that we’re reporting you, but we have to report that the money is fake.”

REALITY CHECK

Although Jack stopped buying phony money four years ago when he landed a better job—ironically enough, doing security—he remembers those days very clearly.

When he was first contemplating buying the funny money, he was nudged by the prospects of great nights out with his buddies, similar to the epic times he says his counterfeit supplier enjoyed.

“They were doing it big-time—bottle service at the club, paid in full,” remembers Jack. “The girl counts it up, happy she got a $200 to $300 tip.

“You had some good nights,” he says. “There’s nights that me and [my friend] just bought out the bar.

“Pitchers,” he adds, “keep the pitchers coming.”

Now, he says, it wasn’t worth the risk.

“I’d be locked up,” he says. “We would be doing this [interview] through a glass window.”

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