The grocery store card skimming scam you need to be aware of

ORANGE COUNTY, CA – Prosecutors in California have identified a new twist on an age-old scam conducted by the Romanian mafia. The organized crime group has been using debit card skimming devices on self-checkout machines in grocery stores to steal personal information.

The scam, which has historically been a problem at gas stations and ATMs, has now evolved. The criminals sit outside stores like Walmart or Target, seemingly panhandling, often with children. However, they are actually using Bluetooth technology connected to the skimming devices inside the stores, allowing them to steal cash and card numbers.

One of the criminals, Florin Duduianu, has been convicted of fraud and theft in California and is also one of Romania’s most wanted criminals. Video footage obtained by the El Cajon Police Department shows how quickly and easily these criminals can place a skimmer over a credit card swipe.

To combat this, police recommend checking credit card swipes before use. If the swipe wobbles or comes off, it’s likely a skimming device. Despite several large-scale arrests in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico, the thefts continue to increase. The criminals are believed to be making up to $9 million a month, much of it at the expense of taxpayers.

The skimming devices target EBT card users, often draining accounts as soon as state payments are released. This has resulted in over $100 million in thefts from taxpayer-funded welfare programs. The criminals use the stolen funds to fund organized crime, purchase luxury cars, and live lavish lifestyles.

The criminals also exploit lax bail policies and incomplete criminal records, often cutting off their ankle monitors and fleeing if arrested. A large number of these criminals are believed to be in the U.S. illegally, primarily entering through the southern border.

A group of Southern California counties has seen around 15% of the Romanian mob’s activity within the U.S. The criminals send stolen money back to Romania, fund luxurious lifestyles, and trade food stamps for baby formula and energy drinks, which are resold in Mexico in partnership with local cartels.

One of the criminals, Florin Duduianu, was convicted in January after being caught making multiple withdrawals using different cards from the same ATM. Duduianu is expected to receive a 30-year sentence in federal prison.