GARDAI have arrested three criminals who they believe are ringleaders in lucrative ATM card skimming scams and seized two sophisticated machines which are used for stealing card details.
The dramatic arrests were made at Dublin Airport by detectives from Pearse Street Garda station in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The three suspects – men aged 40, 31 and 23 – were taken into custody after they got off a flight from Romania.
They are all Romanian nationals and they remained in garda custody last night.
A senior source explained: "This was an intelligence-led operation and it is being considered a major coup for gardai.
"The skimming machines which were seized are fairly sophisticated – they were found in the luggage of the suspects. One machine was complete while components of another machine were also found.
"There is no doubt that this equipment could have led to people being left tens of thousands of euro out of pocket.
"Skimming is becoming a major problem again – it is something that financial institutions are very concerned about."
It is understood the arrested suspects have not previously been in Ireland but are members of an international crime gang that has been involved in skimming across Europe.
The arrests were made under Operation Aughrim – a major drive against street crime in the capital which has included the epidemic of street smartphone thefts.
One element tactics gardai use involves swamping 'black spot' areas in the city centre with up to 20 undercover officers at a time, particularly on weekends.
Gardai are also closely monitoring suspected thieves and building up "intelligence-based profiles" on key players.
Raids are then launched on these suspects once a significant body of evidence has been built up.
Apart from ATM skimming, gardai have also noticed an increase in 'shoulder surfing' in which criminals take note of a pin number of their victim before then distracting the victim, stealing their purse and then "clearing out" their bank account.
In an unrelated case last month in Donegal town, hundreds of people had their savings stolen in a card-skimming scam. AIB, BOI and Ulster Bank contacted customers to inform them of the swindle which is believed to have been going on for six months.