A fresh wave of card skimmers were stopped from entering New Zealand yesterday after a border security officer in Auckland linked two people to an ATM fraud in Mexico.
Six suspected fraudsters who had just arrived in Auckland from Kuala Lumpur were sent packing back there.
The two men linked to the Mexican fraud had already been banned from flying with them to NZ. A woman with the group then decided not to board the flight.
Last night, Immigration NZ bosses lauded the officer for "great detective work" after she identified two skimmers while they were still in Malaysia.
Auckland police are already dealing with two gangs of skimmers - one group arrested eight days ago was targeting eftpos machines.
In that case, more than $150,000 has been taken via ATM machines in Canada from the accounts of 700 New Zealanders in a scam involving "corrupted" eftpos keypads, including some at Burger Fuel in central Auckland.
The other gang of skimmers targeted five ANZ and National Bank ATMs in Auckland in February and last month and are still being hunted.
In yesterday's case, the border officer picked out the nine suspected skimmers after their Bulgarian passports raised an alert.
As the group waited at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to board their flight to Auckland, she found their names on the passenger list and began checking them against computer databases and the internet.
Two of the names matched men caught in Mexico in 2010 in a card-skimming operation in which they fixed false fronts to ATM machines to harvest account details.
The Weekend Herald understands the pair are Ventsislavov Vasil, 32, and Angelov Tilev Marchev, 35, who were deported from Mexico in December 2010.
Immigration NZ border operations manager Karen Urwin said staff in Auckland checked every person travelling to the country. They were trained to identify patterns and to spot unusual deviations.
Ms Urwin said it was unusual to have so many passport holders from Bulgaria travelling together. "Credit card skimming is the crime of the moment. Organised crime gangs out of Eastern Europe tend to be behind it."
Ms Urwin said after the border security officer found the two matches, "we put an alert against them and when they went to check in [at KL], they were not allowed to board".
Instead, the men were told the Immigration NZ officer wanted to speak to them.
She carried out a phone interview, during which the men denied any links to card skimming.
She then said she had identified them by photographs found online. The men, one short and one tall, were "pretty distinctive when they stand together".
Ms Urwin said the pair were told they were banned from New Zealand. At that stage, a woman travelling with the group also decided to stay in Malaysia.
The rest of the group were asked what their intentions were in New Zealand. "They said they were coming for diving and fishing."
When they touched down in Auckland, they were pulled out of the passport queue for "detailed questioning" and the prospect of a Customs search.
"They immediately decided they didn't want to do much diving or fishing and changed their mind about coming here."
The group left yesterday on pre-paid return tickets.