By Phil Corso
Authorities nabbed four Romanian nationals — two from Elmhurst — suspected of installing hidden cameras and credit card skimmers on ticket machines at various Long Island Rail Road stations, including one in Bayside, investigators said.
Police arrested a husband-and-wife team of Valer Zaharia, 38, and Teodora Zaharia, 27, last week after they were spotted retrieving two skimming devices and two hidden cameras from ticket vending machines at the Sea Cliff LIRR station, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police said.
A further investigation led authorities to an apartment in Elmhurst, where the MTA police said they arrested two others — Niculae Petre, 45, and Dorin Husa, 37 — believed to be technicians and managers of the scam in possession of thousands of debit and credit card numbers.
Officials said the investigation had been underway since cameras and skimmers were also spotted at other Metro-North Railroad ticket vending machines in Chappaqua, Westchester County. The MTA police said authorities checked all 277 machines in the Metro-North system and found no other cameras, but a further search into 115 other LIRR stations and 95 Metro-North locations was conducted.
“Always safeguard your personal information like your PIN number and report any suspicious activity,” said Helena Williams, LIRR president. “LIRR crews are also on alert, checking to make sure our ticket vending machines are safe to use.”
The plot started to unravel when the devices were spotted at the Bayside and Great Neck stations on the Port Washington line, Merillon Avenue on the Port Jefferson line and Greenvale on the Oyster Bay line in mid-October, prompting the MTA to team up with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
“Identity theft is a financial plague afflicting millions of victims and costing billions of dollars in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions. In this particular case, the defendants were allegedly amassing the personal identifying information of unwitting commuters,” Brown said. “This case should serve as a reminder that people should periodically check their credit reports, as well as their credit and debit card statements, to ensure that their personal information has not been accessed by criminals.”
“Ticket vending machines are a source of convenience for thousands of people who take the railroad every single day, but unfortunately those machines have become a source of convenience and opportunity for a crew of brazen thieves targeting commuters,” Rice said. “While law enforcement agencies like ours continue to work together to rein in this scam entirely, customers should raise their alertness at machines, try to use cash or credit cards when possible, and notify authorities immediately of any problems.”
The Zaharias were arraigned last week in First District Court in Hempstead, L.I., and charged with identity theft, criminal possession of forgery devices and unlawful possession of a skimmer device, Rice said. Petre and Husa were arraigned the following day in Queens and charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices and unlawful possession of personal identification information, Rice said.
Petre was held on $50,000 bond while Husa was held on $35,000 bond, the Queens DA said.
If convicted, all four face up to seven years in prison, investigators said.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.