BOSTON – A Brazilian national was sentenced on Wednesday in federal court in connection with an ATM skimming operation, which involved using “cloned” debit cards to withdraw thousands of dollars in the Greater Boston area, including three banks in Lynn.
Helisson Benazi de Souza, 38, was sentenced to three years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $105,880 in restitution. He will be subject to deportation proceedings upon completion of his sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Benazi de Souza pleaded guilty in March to one count of using counterfeit access devices (debit cards); one count of possessing 15 or more counterfeit access devices (debit cards); three counts of possessing device-making equipment (ATM skimming devices); one count of illegal transactions with an access device (other persons’ debit cards); and two counts of aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors said Benazi de Souza was part of an ATM skimming operation in which he stole the debit card information and personal identification numbers (PINs) of legitimate bank account holders when they used their debit cards at ATMs.
Skimming devices made to look like legitimate card access slots were used to record the account information on the magnetic stripes of the debit cards, while secret pinhole cameras recorded the cardholders entering their PINs on the keypads, prosecutors said.
The stolen account information was saved on blank plastic cards, including gift cards and hotel key cards, making “clones” of the legitimate debit cards. Benazi de Souza used the cloned cards, and the corresponding PINs, to withdraw thousands of dollars from ATMs in the Metro Boston area in May 2017, prosecutors said.
He was arrested that month after police were alerted by a bank’s fraud investigator, who had discovered that someone made a number of withdrawals that day at three ATMs in Lynn from bank accounts that the investigator knew had been compromised, prosecutors said.
Surveillance video from banks in Malden and Saugus showed an unknown man, later identified as Benazi de Souza, installing and removing skimming devices and pinhole cameras at the banks’ ATMs, prosecutors said.
When police searched Benazi de Souza’s car, they found thousands of dollars in cash, all in $20 bills, along with more than 200 gift cards and hotel key cards containing small stickers. He admitted that the numbers written on the stickers were cardholders’ PINs, prosecutors said.