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Police say family members used ATM skimmers to prey on hundreds

Putnam County, Jacksonville investigators say thieves targeted 400 accounts

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PALATKA, Fla. – A Romanian skimming ring that targeted hundreds of North Florida and South Georgia residents was busted after a two-month investigation spanning multiple counties, according to the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.

More than 80 Putnam County residents and more than 300 residents in other communities, including Jacksonville, Keystone Heights, Newberry and into Southeast Georgia, had their bank information stolen, deputies said.

Two suspects, Elena Matei, 35, and Plopsor Matei, 18, were arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. News4Jax has learned the pair were a Romanian-born woman and her nephew. They were arrested Monday at their Mandarin home.

Investigators said in most cases the two would approach an ATM disguised with wigs and sunglasses to install a skimmer and a pinhole camera. They would leave, then come back hours or days later to collect the camera and skimmer.

The two, investigators said, were caught on surveillance video installing skimmers at bank ATMs in Jacksonville, Putnam County, Clay County, Alachua County, Taylor County and Georgia.

News4Jax has learned the list of targeted banks includes:

  • Navy Federal Credit Union 11100 San Jose Blvd, Mandarin (camera installed but skimmer failed)
  • Capital City Bank 4120 Crill Ave, Palatka
  • Capital City Bank 148 U.S. 17 South, East Palatka
  • Capital City Bank 500 Green Way, Keystone Heights 
  • SunTrust Bank 770 Lane Avenue, Westside
  • Capital City Bank 24202 West Newberry Road, Newberry
  • First Atlantic Bank 5665 Normandy Blvd, Westside
  • Ameris Bank 1555 Kingsley Ave. Orange Park (ATM was not functional)
  • TIAA Bank 104 New Berlin Road, Northside
  • Capital City Bank 115 West Green Street, Perry, Georgia

The suspects downloaded the stolen ATM information, re-encoded the information onto blank magnetic cards and cashed out the cards, according to their arrest reports.

Authorities have not yet said how much money was fraudulently taken from the banks but Capital City Bank, where five of the skimmers were found, reported a loss of more than $46,000. SunTrust reported a loss of more than $6,000. 

The Mateis were arrested on Monday at their Mandarin apartment complex. They remain in jail numerous fraud and other charges, held on $340,000 and $400,000 bond. Authorities have surveillance video of them coming and going from a Sunbeam Road storage facility that was rented under a fake name.

Putnam County Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach is hosting a press conference at the Putnam County Board of County Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to release further details in the case.

Including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Putnam County Sheriff's Office, agencies who worked on the case included the North Florida Financial Crimes Task Force, United States Secret Service, Florida Highway Patrol, Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Putnam County said the agencies worked together to identify the suspects involved in the skimming and were able to obtain search warrants that led to evidence, prompting the arrest of the pair.