Chase Bank teller arrested in connection with Miami Beach skimming scam

Manuel Vargas, 19, accused of withdrawing money from victims' accounts

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Michael Seiden - Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A Chase Bank branch teller was arrested Wednesday, months after Miami Beach police opened an investigation into numerous cases of ATM fraud involving a skimmer device, authorities said.

Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said the department's economic crimes unit opened the investigation in May after at least seven victims came forward.

According to an arrest report, Manuel Vargas, 19, was captured on surveillance video on three occassions in July withdrawing money from a City National Bank ATM using counterfeit debit cards and the account holders' personal identification numbers. 

City National Bank notified detectives that more than $6,800 was stolen from the accounts between July 16 and July 18.

Police said Vargas confessed to withdrawing the money after he was introduced to a "friend" who gave him more than 10 debit cards and PINs. 

Police said Vargas claimed that he and the friend withdrew cash at ATMs in Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach, but said that he only kept a small amount of the money.

Rodriguez said detectives discovered the common point of initial transaction was at a City National Bank-owned ATM at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, where a skimmer was installed. 

Police call it skimming when a criminal puts a device on a card reader to steal debit or credit card information during a transaction.

"So as people go in there, they dip their card into the reader. That information is stored and, in this case, on that green globe, where later the subjects will go retrieve it, and then fraudulently create new debit cards to use," Rodriguez told Local 10 News in August. 

Police believe Vargas and at least two other men stole thousands of dollars from the victims after withdrawing cash from ATMs throughout South Florida.

Vargas was out on felony bond in relation to a separate case when he was arrested. 

He was ordered held Thursday in lieu of a $35,000 bond.

Police believe there may be additional victims.

A Mount Sinai Medical Center representative said the hospital took the initiative to work with authorities on this case and were proactive in having this investigated and resolved.

Below are tips from the Miami Beach Police Department about how to avoid being skimmed:

- Inspect the ATM, gas pump or credit card reader before using it. Be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive/tape residue.
- When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number.
- If possible, use an ATM at an inside location, where it is less likely that criminals will have access to install skimmers. 
- Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas, which are a popular target of skimmers.
- If your card isn't returned after the transaction or after hitting "cancel," immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.

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