3 sentenced in local ATM skimming

By Karen Zautyk

Three Bulgarian nationals were sentenced last week in Newark Federal Court for stealing account information – and more than $270,000 – from Valley National Bank customers in Nutley and Belleville. The bank ultimately absorbed the loss.
Appearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. last Wednesday, Lachezar Lazarov, 26, who had been living in Queens, N.Y., was sentenced to 65 months in prison; Georgi Nikiforov, 25, also of Queens, to 57 months, and Viktor Kafalov, 28, of Brooklyn, to 32 months, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
Authorities said the trio had admitted to a “skimming” operation, installing secret recording devices and pinhole cameras on Valley National ATMS in Nutley and Belleville in September 2008.
In “skimming,“ account and identity information, which is contained in the magnetic strip of an ATM card, is read and recorded by an electronic device secretly inserted into the ATM. Additionally, a pinhole camera records the bank customers’ keystrokes when they enter their personal identification number.
According to court records, once the defendants had obtained the information, it was transferred and loaded onto blank ATM cards. Beginning in October 2008, the newly created cards were used to make unauthorized withdrawals from the skimmed accounts by co-conspirators throughout the tri-state area and other parts of the country.
In all, the culprits stole information from approximately 348 accounts and defrauded Valley National of $278,144. The bank absorbed the loss when it repaid the defrauded customers.
Kafalov was arrested in June 2010; Lazarov and Nikiforov, in October 2010. All three have been held without bail since their apprehension.
The defendants each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and to aggravated identity theft.
In addition to the prison terms, Brown sentenced Lazarov to five years of supervised release; Nikiforov and Kafalov, to three years of supervised release. The defendants were also ordered to pay restitution in the total amount of $189,471.25.
Fishman cited agents of the U.S. Secret Service, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jacob Christine, with the investigation leading to the resolution of the case. He also thanked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, for its assistance.

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