A Mustang seen in a Landbank-Banilad CCTV footage leads NBI agents to the Romanians living in a high-end condominium in Cebu City
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7) yesterday arrested three Romanians believed to be behind the series of unauthorized automated teller machine (ATM) withdrawals in Cebu.
The suspected ATM skimmers were caught at a newly constructed condominium located along Molave Street in Barangay Kamputhaw, Cebu City, on Friday morning.
The three Romanians, whose entry status in the country was still being verified, were said to be the same persons who were captured in the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed near ATMs of the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) in Banilad, said NBI-7 Special Investigator Arnel Pura.
NBI-7 Special Investigator Florante Gaoiran, the team leader, identified one of the suspects as Lonup Alesandrou.
He said they were still verifying the identities of the two other suspects.
Gaoiran said the suspects were seen through the CCTV camera installed near a Landbank ATM. The same footage captured the vehicle of the suspects.
Gaoiran said they traced the vehicle to the condominium where the suspects were staying. Other details, he said, will be given in a press conference today.
At least 50 current and retired government personnel who have payroll accounts with Landbank have fallen victims to the skimming scam, losing thousands of pesos in saving deposits and salaries.
The NBI-7 has applied for a search warrant in court for them to enter the rooms of the suspects. Details on how the NBI-7 traced the whereabouts of the suspects were sketchy as of press time.
The suspects were arrested by the NBI while they were about to get inside the condominium at around 11 a.m. They were brought to the NBI office for interrogation.
Reporters were not allowed inside the room. At around 4 p.m., the NBI proceeded to the Cebu City Hall of Justice to secure a search warrant for them to get inside the the suspects’ room.
At around 6 p.m., after securing a search warrant from Judge Generosa Labra of the Regional Trial Court Branch 23 in Cebu City, they proceeded to the condominium where the suspects stayed.
No details were given yet as to what they found inside the unit.
As of 7 p.m., the NBI-7 agents led by Assistant Director Dominador Cimafranca were still inside the condominium along with the suspects.
But the NBI, aside from placing the three Romanians in their custody, also confiscated a red Ford Mustang sports car that the suspects allegedly owned.
Reporters were not allowed to enter the premises of the condominium by its security guards, as requested by the property’s management.
In a press statement, Landbank said it was closely coordinating with the NBI to address the skimming incident which affected ATM card holders.
Investigation revealed that a skimming device has been installed in the Landbank ATM in Mandaue City. The bank management discovered and removed it.
Traces of skimming were also detected in the Landbank ATM in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City, but there was no device found.
As a precautionary measure, Landbank said it blocked over 2,000 accounts to ensure the safety of these accounts.
Concerned account holders were also advised to visit their depository branch to reset their Personal Identification Numbers, the bank said.
“Landbank assures its clients that these are isolated incidents and that the bank is working closely with the NBI to resolve the issue,” the bank said.
It advised the public to take extra measures in protecting their ATM card information.
At least 50 depositors claimed to be victims of ATM skimming, including policemen and soldiers.
Senior Supt. Joel Doria, director of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), said at least 15 policemen in the city were victims of the skimming.
Of the number, nine are from the Talamban Police Station including its chief, Senior Insp. Arieza Otida.
Based on their own investigation, Doria said a foreign-looking man was also behind the skimming incidents last year, as seen on the CCTV footage presented to them by Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak.
Tumulak was a victim of a similar skimming incident last year, also involving Landbank.
However, they had a hard time pursuing the suspects because the bank refused to cooperate.
“Hirap tayo. Ayaw kasi mag-cooperate ng bank. (We really have a hard time because the bank is not cooperating with us),” he said in an interview.
NBI-7 stepped into the controversy upon the request of Landbank. This time, the bank provided a copy of the CCTV footage of their ATM to the NBI.
Republic Act 8484 or the Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998 prohibits obtaining money or anything of value through the use of an access device with intent to defraud or with intent to gain.
Wait for two months
A CCPO policewoman said she lost her first half of the month salary this March to the skimmers but was told by the bank that she would need to wait at least two months before she could recover the stolen money.
PO2 Yolanda Arcillas of Guadalupe Police Station said she tried to withdraw from her ATM early this week but her card was captured. She went to the Landbank Osmeña Boulevard branch to check her account and was relieved that her salary was intact.
But she said she knew of some colleagues in the police force whose accounts were emptied by the skimmers.
As of yesterday, government employees continued to troop at the Landbank main office located in P. del Rosario St. corner Osmeña Blvd. to withdraw their salaries over the counter.
Gov. Hilario Davide III, meanwhile, urged Landbank to investigate its own personnel as the ATM skimming incidents could involve some bank staff.
“Ako, I believe nga naa na sa sulod gyud ba (that it involves an insider). I’m not accusing Landbank pero mas maayo ila pud ng tan-awon or daghan pud kaayo mga maldito nga maayo kaayo mo-hack pud (but it is better that they look into it since hackers abound),” he said.
Davide said he was relieved that payroll accounts of the Capitol employees are with the United Coconut Planters Bank.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, for her part, said that with this incident, it would be wise to install CCTVs in business establishments.