Four Los Angeles men were arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy for allegedly participating in a scheme that installed credit card “skimmers” inside pumps at gas stations across Southern California and elsewhere.
A criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court charges eight defendants — including three fugitives and a man who is expected to turn himself in — with perpetuating a scheme to secretly install electronic devices known as skimmers inside of gas pumps that were equipped with point-of-sale terminals.
“Identity theft causes significant harm to individuals as well as imposing costs on society overall,” said Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. “Members of the public are entitled to use their credit and debit cards at gas stations without fear that their identities could be stolen. The collective consequence of such criminal activity is that thousands of people have had their personal information compromised and now they must undertake substantial efforts to protect their identities.”
When gas station customers swiped their credit or debit cards through the device that reads the magnetic strips on the back of their cards, the information was stored on the skimmers that were hidden inside the gas pumps, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to an affidavit in the case, members of the conspiracy were able to later retrieve the account information without going back inside the gas pumps by using Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as cellular phones or tablets.
Prosecutors said the skimmers were manufactured with parts purchased at electronics stores.
Dozens of the devices were found at gas stations in San Gabriel, Burbank, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Eagle Rock, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Torrance, Long Beach, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin, Fountain Valley, the Coachella Valley and Las Vegas, authorities said.
During installation, the defendants used large vans to conceal their activities as they forced open panels on the gas pumps and placed the devices so they were not visible to customers who used their credit cards at the pumps, according to the complaint.
Authorities said the investigation is ongoing and had no estimate of the losses that may be associated with the stolen credit card information.
In conjunction with the arrests, investigators executed a series of search warrants, finding materials at one location indicating that members of the organization were manufacturing counterfeit credit cards, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The four defendants arrested Wednesday are:
— Nazar Daniyelyan, 47, of Sun Valley;
— Ruben Karapetyan, 39, of Porter Ranch;
— Grigor Pambukyan, 26, of Van Nuys; and
— Arsen Terzyan, 32, of Van Nuys.
The fugitives are Armen Khalulyan, 30, hometown not available; Arutyan Oganyan, 41, of North Hollywood; and Anthony Tngryan, 26, of Van Nuys.
Oganes Tagaryan, 23, whose hometown was not provided, is expected to surrender to authorities in the near future, officials said.
“This conspiracy case demonstrates the effectiveness of multi- jurisdictional partnerships in the dismantling of criminal enterprises targeting innocent American citizens, ” said L. Robert Savage III, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Los Angeles field office. “This investigation and the resulting arrests should serve as a warning to criminals that law enforcement will not cease pursuing them.” The defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess 15 or more unauthorized access devices, a charge carrying a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
If any member of the public has information concerning the fugitives in this case, they are urged to contact the Secret Service at (213) 533-4400.
— Wire reports
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: