International ‘skimmer’ schemer caught in Alaska with illegal card-reading device, charges say

The Anchorage federal courthouse

Federal authorities in Anchorage have arrested a longtime, international criminal who allegedly had a device to steal credit and debit card information in a process known as “skimming,” according to a charging document.

The charges say Marcus Catalin Rosu’s criminal activity spans the globe, from Australia to the United Kingdom, Michigan to Connecticut and, more recently, Southern California and Southcentral Alaska. Rosu, 39, holds a Romanian passport, according to the charges.

In Alaska federal court, Rosu faces one criminal count of “possession of counterfeit access device-making equipment,” which investigators allegedly found hidden in the ceiling tiles of his Anchorage hotel room. The charges also describe an investigation of fraudulent withdrawals totaling more than $100,000.

Card skimming works like this: The perpetrator secretly installs a small device inside legitimate point-of-sale equipment, like a self-service card reader at a gas station where customers swipe or insert their cards to pay. The “skimmer,” as the device is known, records information from the cards, which is transferred to blank cards and used to make fraudulent purchases or withdrawals.

In Rosu’s case, the investigation began with hundreds of those cloned cards. Here’s what happened, according to the charges filed against him Monday:

In February, postal inspectors searched a suspicious package on its way from Santa Ana, California to a hotel in Palmer, Alaska. They found more than 550 gold-colored cards bundled together, with the names of different financial institutions and PIN numbers written on them.

When they backtracked each card, identifying 500 separate accounts that had been affected, they discovered some had been used to make fraudulent transactions at Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union. The credit union reported ATM losses of more than $100,000, roughly $17,000 of which was directly associated with account information on the gold cards.

By March, the postal inspectors had identified Rosu as the person they suspected had mailed the package containing the cards. They learned Rosu had been caught in October 2019 in Groton Town, Connecticut, trying to install a skimming device, and that he was linked to a similar case in Detroit, Michigan. When they looked at his personal bank account, they saw that he had been making dozens of deposits in Alaska and withdrawals in Southern California that, all together, totaled tens of thousands of dollars.

The inspectors suspect Rosu split up the deposits and withdrawals in an effort to hide his alleged criminal activity. In one episode, Rosu allegedly made withdrawals using 12 separate cards, one after the other. Bank records showed he deposited more than $180,000 into his personal account between August and March.

According to the charges, Rosu’s criminal record with the international policing organization Interpol dates back to 2000 in Great Britain and indicates that he has used at least 12 aliases and eight different dates of birth. In 2010, he was arrested and convicted in Australia on fraud charges related to card-skimming and spent several years in prison there.

In April 2020, the Alaska-based postal inspectors matched fingerprints on the package containing the cloned, fraudulent cards to Rosu’s fingerprints from his prior arrests. But they still didn’t know where to find him.

Then, in May, multiple credit unions reported fraudulent withdrawals linked to two card skimmers discovered in self-service kiosks at two Anchorage post offices: One on West Northern Lights Boulevard and the other on Lake Otis Parkway.

Information from cards compromised in the post office skimming was used to make a total of more than $23,000 in withdrawals at ATMs across Anchorage from May 12 to 18. The very next day, May 19, Rosu flew home from Anchorage to Southern California.

The trail apparently went cold again for nearly two months, until an employee of Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union reported what appeared to be card skimming taking place at the credit union’s ATM in Willow.

It was about 7 a.m. July 9, and the employee had seen a man approach the ATM on foot, which the employee found suspicious.

“The MVFCU employee said that is not really a place where people do a lot of walking,” the charges say. “The (employee) saw the individual walk to a bicycle and took a photo of him.”

A review of the ATM’s security camera footage showed the man installing the skimmer and then returning, after the credit union employee had left, to remove it.

That’s when an Alaska State Trooper, also working on the case, put out an alert to other law enforcement to stop Rosu if they saw him. That included police at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The next day, an officer at the airport called to say that they had Rosu in custody.

“(They) explained that Rosu had returned to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, but rather than turning in the car, Rosu wanted to exchange it for another car,” the charges say. “Enterprise denied his request and Rosu caused a disturbance which led to the Airport Police responding, identifying and detaining Rosu.”

In Rosu’s rented vehicle, the investigators found the bike from the credit union employee’s photo and a room key for the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown Anchorage, where he’d checked in using one of his many aliases.

After taking Rosu to jail, the inspectors searched his room. Above the ceiling tiles, they found more than 1,000 gold-colored, magnetic strip cards, a laptop computer and a magnetic strip reader-encoder.

Rosu declined to talk to the investigators, and his attorney declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday. Rosu remained jailed in Anchorage pending a detention hearing set for later in the week.

Federal prosecutors also declined to comment.