Using ‘modern devices’ to clone debit cards with which he stole at least ¢34 million colones (US$59,000 dollars), Boyco Kirilov Tsvetanov, 39, a Bulgarian national, was arrested by the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) in an apartment in Trejos Montealegre, Escazu.

Photo from OIJ

Karla Chinchilla, head of the Banking Unit of the OIJ Fraud Section, said the Tsvetanov entered Costa Rica on June 21 and one day later began cloning cards. He was intending to leave the country on July 14.

In the 16 day period before his arrest on July 7, the OIJ received 27 complaints from cardholders with losses of ¢22.5 million colones. However, when the foreigner was arrested he had ¢34 million in cash, leading authorities to believe there are more victims who have not yet detected money missing from their accounts.

Cash found in the raided apartment. From OIJ.

Modus Operandi

To steal the information to produce the cloned cards, Tsvetanov used skimmers and micro camera. Chinchilla said that the skimmers used were unlike other skimmers detected in the country, installed in the slot of the ATM in a way which could not be detected by the user.

Equipment used to carry out the scam. Photo from OIJ

“It used to be easier to detect them because the skimmers were more exposed. Unfortunately, they are using devices that are the size of a card … There is no way anyone (users) realizes they are there,” said Chinchilla.

In addition, the suspect managed to place micro cameras in places that are not visible to bank customers. For example, cameras have been found in smoke detectors and even glued with gum, the OIJ official said. The cameras would allow the Tsvetanov to get the user PIN number.

From OIJ

“The precautionary measure we recommend is to cover the keypad, because although the information on the card is stolen, the scammers will not be able to make the withdrawal,” said Chinchilla.

The OIJ official added that, to remove the device, the foreigner used special equipment and back at his apartment he was able to read the information and clone the cards. At the time of the arrest, in the raided apartment OIJ agents found 300 cards, as well as the devices.

Although there may be others, the OIJ said the rigged ATMs were in Sabanilla de Montes de Oca, Guadalupe de Goicoechea, Tibás, Zapote, Heredia, Alajuela, Hatillo, Alajuelita and Curridabat.

According to the OIJ, different financial institutions, both state and private, were targeted between 5:00 am and 8:00 am and 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm.

“He (Tsvetanov) was detained after surveillance at an ATM in Calle Blancos. He was followed and arrested in the apartment,” said Chinchilla.

The OIJ official said this is the first time Tsvetanov has been in the country and they are now checking with the International Police (Interpol) of any cases outside the country.

Cash, cloned cards and equipment used by the suspect. Photo OIJ

Preventive Detention

Last Friday, the Juzgado Penal de Goicoechea (Criminal Court of Goicoechea) imposed six months of preventive detention while authorities continue their investigation.

Authorities are asking anyone who detects any unusual withdrawals from their accounts to come forward.

On February 19 last, the OIJ detained two Romanian nationals who looted ¢75 million colones through card cloning.

Chinchilla added that this type of crime has become very common among Eastern Europeans, who visit countries in Latin America to carry out their scams.

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