A ROMANIAN man who installed card reading deviced in two city centre cash machines has been jailed.
Toma Salajan will also be deported to Romania once he serves his sentence of two years and four months, which was handed down to him at Inverness Sheriff Court this week.
Salajan was only caught because two members of the public were suspicious and contacted police.
The 27-year-old admitted, while acting with another, attaching a bank card reading device and video camera to the HSBC and RBS cash machines outside Morrisons supermarket on Millburn Road on 29th March, with intent to steal money, whilst on bail.
Depute fiscal Ron Phillips explained Salajan was involved in attaching card-skimming devices, which record the bank account details of users, to cash machines.
He also used another device to record the user's pin number.
With this information, a fake card could be produced, and accounts targeted.
"This was a very skillfully planned and sophisticated operation aimed at compromising the integrity of the banking system and depriving members of the public of whatever sums of money the accused or his associates choose to withdraw from their bank accounts," Mr Phillips said.
Police were alerted when Salajan and another man were seen by a member of the public acting suspiciously and standing very close to one of the cash machines, so that nobody could see it.
The men seemed to be having difficulty using a card, which the witness could see was unusual - it was red and white and had no bank logo.
"He then heard what he described as a cracking noise as though something was being broken apart," Mr Phillips explained. "He then saw the accused holding a black box, which was about four inches long and one-and-a-half inches thick."
At this point another witness challenged the men about what they were up to, and they walked off.
Police were called and officers found a black sticky adhesive on a panel above the keypad on the HSBC machine, consistent with a panel having being fitted and removed.
However, when officers examined the RBS machine, they found two false panels still attached.
One was about 11 inches in length and contained a small electronic device, while the second panel, about 10 inches in length and above the keypad, contained a mobile phone.
"It had been video recording hand movements through a pinhole," he said.
The false panels taken from this machine were found to contain the electronic data from the bank cards of 45 different customers over a period of 90 minutes.
Using a description given by the witnesses, police managed to track down Salajan later in the day as he walked along Millburn Road in the direction of the supermarket.
He was found to be in possession of three mobile phones, almost £500 in cash, and a red, white and yellow card.
Later on a vehicle was searched and £2400 in bank notes was found, plus similar black panels containing card reading devices, a charger capable of charging such devices and a piece of paper containing a list of locations and postcodes including that of the Morrisons store.
Salajan originally denied knowledge of the items but his DNA was detected on one of the devices fitted to the RBS machine.
Defence agent John McColl told the court it was difficult to present any meaningful mitigation in his client's defence. "These are sophisticated, pre-meditated offences," he said.
"The technical sophistication which was required to commit these offences came from his companion rather than him, but it is clear he is guilty of the offences."
He explained Salajan had been in the UK for several years and latterly worked as a painter and decorator in London before travelling to Edinburgh and then Inverness.
And although he said his client was remorseful, he recognised doubt had been expressed by a social worker over his genuineness.
He added his client did not contest deportation, adding it was his intention to return home to Romania as soon as possible.
Sheriff Margaret Neilson explained the sentence must be significant to deter others.
"This was a pre-mediated, deliberate, calculated and sophisticated crime," she said. "It was designed to attack the integrity of the banking system of this country and steal money from individuals and institutions and provide easy access to significant sums of money for yourself and your associates."
She praised the two members of the public who confronted Salajan and his associate.
The sentence will be backdated to 30th March this year when Salajan was remanded in custody for the offence. He has been a prisoner in Inverness Prison since then.