A total of 89 individuals, some as young as 18, were arrested in two New Jersey counties in an organized scheme that used prepaid debit cards to steal from Santander Bank ATMs across multiple states, prosecutors said.
The large-scale fraud apparently took place at Santander Bank ATM locations, not only in multiple New Jersey towns, but across the tri-state, according to authorities. Mercer, Monmouth and Morris counties have all confirmed multiple arrests, though Morris has declined to say how many.
Although authorities are still investigating and working with Santander Bank to determine exactly how much money was stolen, at this time, according to the prosecutor's office, the total across municipalities in Mercer County is more than $250,000. Monmouth County did not identify the total losses at ATMs there in a release announcing their arrests Friday.
On Tuesday at around 8 a.m., Robbinsville Township police officers responded to the Santander Bank on Route 33 after receiving information that multiple individuals were allegedly gathering around the ATM using stacks of cards to withdraw money all while attempting to avoid security cameras. As officers approached, the group tried to move away from the ATM. According to prosecutors, 20 individuals were subsequently taken into custody by police, each with multiple debit/credit cards and money in their possession.
Robbinsville police reached out to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office for help and investigators began collaborating with authorities in nearby towns including Hamilton, Hopewell, Lawrence, Princeton and West Windsor, as well as Santander Bank.
During the course of the investigation, officers learned that the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office reported multiple thefts had occurred at Santander ATMs in the area. Camden County Prosecutor’s Office advised that the alleged suspects in those thefts came from New York. Additionally, officers received information from law enforcement sources that information was being shared on social media on how to defraud Santander ATM machines, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said.
At about 9:40 a.m. Tuesday, West Windsor dispatch provided information that the town had a number of individuals in custody in connection to the alleged scam.
In Lawrence Township, police were also alerted to the ATM scam against the Princeton Santander, according to prosecutors, and after being made aware of the alleged scam that was occurring, heightened attention was given to the Santander banks in town. Subsequently, at about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle used in the Princeton scam was stopped, the occupants were investigated and ultimately charged with the conspiracy. The bank reported abnormally high ATM usage and had a shortage of about $40,000, the prosecutor's office said.
Meanwhile, in Hamilton Township, at approximately 10 a.m. Tuesday, police responded to the Santander Bank located on South Broad Street due to a report of two suspicious vehicles in the parking lot of the bank. Additional vehicles and suspects were located throughout the day at various ATMs in town.
Hopewell Township had three separate incidents involving separate groups that started around 11:30 a.m. at the Santander Bank on Pennington Road. According to Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, in that instance, several foot chases took place, but in the end all subjects were apprehended.
During the investigation within Mercer County, bank cards, debit cards, credit cards, cash, marijuana, and a handgun were recovered. Additionally, more than a dozen vehicles were seized throughout the county.
The dozens of individuals arrested in Mercer County range from age 16 to 34.
Similar incidents were reported in multiple other jurisdictions throughout New Jersey. On Friday Monmouth County reported a further 31 arrests in six towns. The suspects were aged anywhere from 22 to 55, and the majority came from Brooklyn.
On Tuesday, Chopper 4 witnessed various police cars guarding a Santander ATM in Robbinsville. Meanwhile, on Hylan Boulevard In Staten Island, the NYPD had an entire bank blocked off.
The South Windsor Police Department in Connecticut also sent out a series of tweets earlier in the week warning residents of the suspected scam.
"We have been made aware of an ATM scam in which suspects are using Santander Bank ATM's to fraudulently withdraw cash using fake debit cards. Since we have a branch in town (1765 Ellington Rd), we are asking any citizen using their ATM to use caution when withdrawing money," one of the tweets reads.
In a statement Tuesday, Santander said that after learning of the suspicious activity involving some ATMs at branch locations, they have temporarily shut down those machines. They also said some bank branches may feature added security or could be temporarily closed.
"We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate this situation and apologize for any customer inconvenience," the statement read. "As we work to expeditiously resolve this situation, our customers should know that there is no impact to their accounts or funds, which can be accessed online, using our digital app, in our branches or at non-branch ATMs."
A spokesperson for the New Jersey FBI office previously said the agency is aware of the Santander ATM situation and is in contact with its state and local law enforcement partners. The NYPD said it was also investigating several instances in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island where the fraud scheme may have taken place. The department believes only Santander ATMs were impacted by the fraudsters.
Brooklyn residents said they had noticed some suspicious behavior at a Santander location on 16th Street earlier in the week, with cell phone video showing unusual long lines forming outside the bank, and cars parking outside while multiple people going back and forth from the ATM.