‘Contactless’ bank cards a bonanza for thieves

Galway Courthouse

The ease with which ‘contactless’ bank cards can be used by thieves was highlighted at Galway District Court, when a woman who found one such card stuck in a bank machine went on a spending spree.

Ramona Novacovici (38), 31 Fearann Rí, Doughiska, pleaded guilty to 13 charges of theft which occurred immediately after she found a debit card – which an elderly man had absent-mindedly left behind him at an ATM machine – on August 4 last.

Sergeant Georgina Lohan said the man went to the ATM room at the Bank of Ireland in Eyre Square at 12.24pm to get a mini statement and left his debit card stuck in the machine when he exited the bank a short time later.

Novacovici found the card in the ATM and took it, embarking on a shopping spree by using the card’s contactless payment facility.

The court heard that among the items the mother-of-three bought was a schoolbag for one of her children.

She used the card at JD Sports in Eyre Square, making purchases worth €28, €30, €30 and €21.50 in four separate transactions, all on the same date.

She used the card in five transactions on the same date at Elvery’s Sports in Eyre Square, purchasing various items for €30, €28, €14, €30 and €28.

She went on to buy other items that same day in Dealz, at Centra in Renmore and at the Briarhill Shopping Centre, not far from her home, before she threw the card away.

Judge Mary Fahy became incensed when she heard Novacovici had used the stolen card to buy a schoolbag for her child and she wondered what sort of example the accused was setting for her children.

The judge noted that all of the purchases had to be under €30, given it was a contactless card.

Sgt Lohan agreed, but she said the total amount the accused had spent using the stolen card came to €246.85 and all of the purchases had been made on the same day in a very short space of time.

“That is the difficulty with contactless cards. I’m sure there are people in court turning that over in their heads now,” the judge added.

She then asked if the accused had been following the man or if she had been watching other customers to see if they left their cards behind.

Sgt Lohan said it appeared from CCTV footage that it had been an opportunistic theft and the woman had not been following the man.

“It would just make it more sinister if she had been following him, but the State accepts the theft was opportunistic,” Judge Fahy said.

Defence solicitor, Olivia Traynor said her client was a Romanian national who had moved to Ireland 15 years ago. Her husband had died four years ago and she now suffered from physical and mental health issues.

Ms Traynor said Novacovici had accepted responsibility immediately when questioned by Garda Brendan Owens about the theft of the card and the subsequent spending spree.

Ms Traynor handed €300 compensation into court, which the accused had brought for the elderly card owner.

Judge Fahy asked if the shops would be compensated or were the goods recovered.

Ms Traynor said the items included clothing, cigarettes and the schoolbag, which her client had kept.

Judge Fahy had Novacovici assessed for a community service order and she was deemed a suitable candidate by the probation service.

Judge Fahy directed she carry out 200 hours of community service, or serve five months in prison in lieu, for stealing the card.

She imposed similar but concurrent hours of community service for the remaining charges, or one month in prison on each in lieu, to run concurrently.