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The Romanian mafia has adapted an old scam of debit card skimming by placing devices on self-checkout machines in grocery stores in California. These skimmers look nearly identical to the real card readers, making it difficult for unsuspecting customers to detect them. The thieves use Bluetooth technology connected to the skimmers to steal personal information. Authorities have already arrested dozens of suspects, most with ties to organized crime in Romania. Despite recent large busts, the thefts are increasing, with thieves potentially making up to $9 million a month, much of it at taxpayers’ expense.

These skimmers are also able to target EBT card users, draining accounts as soon as the state releases monthly payments. This has resulted in over $100 million in theft from taxpayer-funded welfare programs and recipients. Victims of these crimes are typically struggling single mothers and hardworking individuals who find themselves unable to pay for groceries due to stolen funds. The mobsters are able to recruit new members through the porous southern border and evade justice through bail policies and incomplete criminal records.

Authorities have identified thousands of criminals with ties to organized Romanian crime in the US, many of whom entered illegally through the southern border. The Romanian mob operates in various Southern California counties, trading stolen money for luxury items and trading in food stamps for baby formula and energy drinks, which are then resold in Mexico. Many suspects, including a 14-year-old, flaunt their ill-gotten gains on social media platforms like TikTok. One of the key figures in this operation, Florin Duduianu, was convicted after police caught him making withdrawals using cloned debit cards.

In response to the rampant skimming thefts, the FBI has partnered with Romanian police to conduct raids in both countries. These joint operations have resulted in numerous arrests and the recovery of stolen funds and luxury vehicles. Many of the suspects arrested in Romania also have ties to Mexican gangs responsible for skimming thefts in popular tourist destinations. The gang leader, Florian Tudor, is facing fraud charges in Mexico and is wanted for attempted murder in Romania. Despite efforts to crack down on these crimes, the Romanian mafia continues to exploit vulnerabilities in the system to steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims.

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