ATM thieves who stole more than $500,000 from financial institutions in the Detroit area were walking away without a punishment and Stephen Dedene, manager of compliance and regulatory affairs at the $822 million Credit Union ONE in suburban Ferndale, was in disbelief.
A number of Credit Union ONE's machines had skimming devices placed on them over the course of several weeks in the summer of 2012, which resulted in losses of more than $90,000 for his credit union.
Members who used these ATM machines had their debit card information and PIN number stolen without their knowledge. Credit Union ONE, Credit Union Times Trailblazer Award Winner for Outstanding Political Action, reimbursed them for the stolen funds. Dedene said it is easy to plant a skimming device on an ATM but hard to spot one.
“These devices are available and it's not illegal so someone can just go right on to eBay or any of those search engines and search how to skim an ATM,” he said.
The U.S. Secret Service, state and local authorities arrested two individuals in connection with the skimming crimes a few weeks after the incidents occurred.
“They served no jail time; they paid no restitution; they had no fines, nothing. It didn't exactly sit well with me,” Dedene said.
According to the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service investigates a large number of ATM skimming cases.
“Through FBI investigative experience, we have learned that ATM skimming is a favorite activity of Eurasian crime groups, so we sometimes investigate skimming—often partnering with the Secret Service—as part of larger organized crime cases,” said the official FBI website.
Dedene said the thieves were not charged because there was not a Michigan state law in existence that dealt directly with ATM skimming.
“It turns out, the only thing on the books was a misdemeanor for using a device to record a personal identification number and that misdemeanor was imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of not more than $1,000,” he said. “That's really the only law that Michigan had on the books. I decided that our laws are not keeping up with the pattern of fraud. As fraud evolves, our laws are sort of lagging behind.”
In February 2013, Dedene organized meetings with some Michigan state lawmakers and representatives from the Michigan Credit Union League about the impact of ATM skimming on credit unions and their members as well as the lack of laws to prosecute such crimes.
State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) had offered to further research current state data theft and fraud laws, which ultimately confirmed that the only related law prohibits recording personal identifying information such as a PIN number. Violations of the existing law would only lead to a misdemeanor of imprisonment up to one year and a fine of not more than $1,000.
“Her research came back and basically confirmed what I was telling them that the laws we have are just not sufficient for this type of crime, which is a $1 billion a year crime nationally,” said Dedene.
Following Cogen-Lipton's findings, Dedene said the group came up with a framework for legislation, which included amending the Michigan penal code to outlaw the sale, purchase, installation, possession or transfer of a skimming device. Any violation would be considered a felony punishable by prison time for at least one year but no more than five years.
“We needed to make the penalty harsher,” he said.
Also included in their framework was replacing the existing misdemeanor penalties with imprisonment for not more than five years and/or a fine of not more than $25,000 for the first offense, imprisonment for not more than 10 years and/or a fine of not more than $50,000 for the second violation and imprisonment for not more than 15 years and/or a fine of not more than $75,000 for the third time.
They also proposed changes to the code of criminal procedure, which included placing the new felony provisions associated with photographing or digitally transferring personal information from a financial transaction device into the sentencing guidelines.
“We received some bill drafts back on those proposals and they looked pretty good. The next thing you know, they are getting introduced in the State House, they’re passing and we’ve having committee hearings,” he said. “I testified in front of the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee. It passed that committee anonymously and went on to the House – all five bills passed the House unanimously.”
Looking back, Dedene said the ATM skimming issue was not on the Michigan Credit Union League's radar before February 2013.
“After working on this and bringing it to their attention – working with the lawmakers and working with the league – it jumped up on their radar screen. We started talking about it at our state governmental affairs conference,” he said.
“We turned this into an advocacy issue where we had staff send their lawmakers letters on this issue,” Dedene added.
Dedene also testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the package of bills into law in December.
“These devices are used to steal from others, and we need to crack down on this problem to help protect Michiganders. This is a bipartisan package of bills approved unanimously, showing the united commitment to fighting this growing issue,” Snyder in a statement.
The new laws with their harsher penalties take effect on April 1. And Credit Union ONE is this year's Trailblazer award winner for Outstanding Political Action.
Credit Union Times asked Dedene if the skimming thieves would be brought to justice retroactively.
“If the law is not on the books at that time, I don't believe they can be because it wasn't an existing law,” he said.
“For nothing to happen is just what infuriated me the most – that we caught them and couldn't do anything about it,” he added.
Judith Desilets, director of public relations at Credit Union ONE, said the new laws would not have been adopted without Dedene's advocacy efforts.
“The signing of these bills is a victory for credit unions, their members, all financial institutions, and all individuals who use ATM and debit cards,” said Desilets. “The issue of ATM skimming demonstrates advocacy in its best form at work.”
Dedene said he is honored to be recognized as a Trailblazer.
“I think it shows that if you’re passionate enough about an issue and you take the initiative, then good things are going to happen. All I did was advocate. Advocacy is one of the most important things we do in this industry. If we do not advocate for ourselves, no one else will,” he said. “I appreciate the award and I hope that others follow through on what they are passionate about to see that change occurs."