News

Duo arrested in skimming scam

Men installed chips in local gas pumps to 'skim' customer info from credit cards

A pair of high-tech bandits were able to steal more than 3,600 credit card numbers with six electronic devices -- known as "skimmers" -- planted at five gas stations in Mountain View and Los Altos, according to the county district attorney.

Boris Tumasyan, 24, and Sarkis Sarkisyan, 23, -- both from Glendale, were charged with eight felony counts, including conspiracy, altering a computer and acquiring credit card information with intent to defraud, after Mountain View police successfully implemented a sting to catch the two men.

Police were initially tipped off on Dec. 6, 2010, when a gas station attendant discovered a small skimmer -- capable of harvesting credit card numbers from unwitting customers -- attached to the circuit board inside a gas pump, according to a press release issued March 8 by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office.

Mountain View officers set an alarm on the pump's circuit board hatch, which was triggered on Dec. 17. Officers arrested Tumasyan and Sarkisyan as they attempted to drive their van out of the Valero station at 334 San Antonio Road.

After searching the duo's van, police found keys that opened the gas pump as well as address information for other stations in the area.

An investigation by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) -- a Bay Area high-tech and identity theft task force -- recovered six identical skimming devices installed at five gas stations.

In addition to the Valero, REACT officers found skimmers at three Shell stations in Mountain View -- 1288 W. El Camino Real, 110 N. Rengstorff Ave. and 807 N. Shoreline Blvd. -- along with one Chevron, located at 401 Main St. in Los Altos.

Tom Flattery, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said that skimming is a growing problem in the Bay Area.

A specialist in prosecuting high tech crimes, Flattery said it only takes "a matter of seconds" to install the skimming devices, which are made from modified commercial credit card scanners used by retailers. Skimmers record everything needed to produce an exact replica of a credit card.

The ease with which counterfeiters can produce and install the skimmers is exacerbated by the fact that many gas pumps can be opened with the same key, regardless of the brand, Flattery said.

He said this type of scheme is "especially frustrating to consumers," because it is impossible to know from the outside which pumps have been hacked. Law enforcement has to rely on the diligence of individual gas station owners.

Consumers can feel safer if they go inside to pay the attendant or if they know that the stations they frequent have changed the locks on their pumps, he said.

The two accused suspects are currently out on bail and scheduled to appear in court on April 14. They face a maximum of seven years, eight months in prison if they are convicted.

Flattery said he believes he has sufficient evidence, which includes video footage taken from the Mountain View Valero, to secure a conviction.

Comments

Posted by HoleInTheHead, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Does this skimming scheme take credit card numbers only, or names, expiration dates, and other relevant information?


Posted by BD, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The skimmers capture everything that is encoded on the card's magnetic strip. Everything a retailer needs to process a transaction and generate a receipt is there, including name and CVV code.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm

And then they were released on bail... how much sense does that make?


Posted by J Cierra, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm

The gas stations are at fault for not having alarms on gas pumps.

The owners of the gas station do not suffer at all when this happens, only their customers. You can bet that if they were held financial liable, the pumps would be more secure.


Posted by Marshall, a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 10, 2011 at 5:23 pm

J Cierra is correct. If we don't hold the businesses accountable for their poor security practices, this will continue get worse.

I suggest a $10,000 fine per transaction skimmed at their station for a first offense. The station should also be required to post a warning on their pumps about their lack of security for the next 12 months.

p.s. People who had their data skimmed, should sue the stations that failed to secure their pumps properly.


Posted by ann, a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm

marshall.....you are sue happy....the business owners were burglarized and you want to sue them......how bout suing the 2 real criminals...


Posted by PH, a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

How about keeping this problem high profile by the media to warn and educate the public and work with the businesses to develop more secure methods of card use as well as posting warnings that these things happen and that it is your option to use the card or use a more secure method of payment. Businesses would benefit from a proactive approach as would the customer.
The bottom line is that we must look out for ourselves and insist that these criminals be treated harshly for their crimes. It is just another down side of our computer filled world and everyone needs to participate in their own security.


Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2011 at 9:26 am

Here is a suggestion. Anyone caught skimming, or otherwise engaging in identity theft, should have their names, date of birth, and Social Security Number published in a newspaper of general circulation. Their bretheran in this line of work could then have a field day at the expense of the scofflaws.


Posted by k, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 11, 2011 at 10:23 am

Chalk up another point for not owning a car! :) No one can hack my breakfast so that they can skim my credit card # while I'm eating to fuel up for my bike commute in the morning. :D

Also-- it's best to use credit cards at gas stations. Credit cards have higher amounts of fraud protection than debit cards.


Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I use cash for everything. That's as safe as it gets.


Posted by Marshall, a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm

@ann

Maybe I am, but I think if you had your money in a bank that was robbed, and that bank did not secure their vault, you might be upset at the bank instead of the robber?


Posted by Joao, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm

The credit card companies have to switch from magnetic strip cards to chip-and-pin cards.


Posted by Sonia Way resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

We regularly use two of the affected Shell stations. In mid December we discovered fraud on our primary credit card. Almost all the charges were to Chevron stations in southern California, were we victims? Did they run charges through gas stations because they knew the card company would not be surprised by gas purchases? Or is there some reason why charges of just under $100 are easy to pass through gas stations without a fraud alert. We are considering dedicating a low limit card for use in skimmer machines. Credit card protections may have limited our personal exposure, but everyone ultimately pays increased prices to cover the fees charged to merchants for the card company to provide those protections.


Posted by JC, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

The pump was attacked and allowed the consumer to be victimized ... attached to the circuit board inside a gas pump. The station needs to update their security. The thieves are up north because LA already took security measures against these attacks and the Bay area has not.

I can only hope all the location are printed and let the consumer choose if they will continue to use the station's service.

In addition to the Valero, REACT officers found skimmers at three Shell stations in Mountain View -- 1288 W. El Camino Real, 110 N. Rengstorff Ave. and 807 N. Shoreline Blvd. -- along with one Chevron, located at 401 Main St. in Los Altos.


Posted by PeterB, a resident of The Crossings
on Mar 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

It is fine saying "we need to look after ourselves" but as others have already said, Gas Stations need to secure their pumps from this sort of attack. "We" have no idea that these devices are installed, so "we" can do nothing. Oil companies supply the pumps, they must ensure their security. I use 2 of these gas stations and have just cancelled my credit and debit card that I use for gas.


Posted by SP Phil, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:41 pm

I was one of the victims--I use the Shell station at the corner of El Camino and Shoreline. Those who "used" my info made purchases in Los Angeles at Home Depot, IKEA, gas stations, their favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, etc.--total was over $6,000.

I reported this to the MV Police and VISA's fraud office took care of correcting my bill, BUT the idea that gas stations use the same key to open up their electronics just doesn't make sense.

What business would fail to lock up its cash register, leave it outside, and go home for the night?


Posted by bv, a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I to was one of the victims. When I was gassing up my car. I went inside to pay rather than pay at the pump. The gas attendant didn't care in the least.


Posted by PH, a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Look out for ourselves....pay cash,pay inside? That's the easy way. The rest involves lawmaking and enforcement as well as public outcry. Make it clear that the businesses should use more secure equipment and the criminals get tough sentences. Educate your self on the subject and get involved. Let the people you feel are responsible know how you feel. But most of all, use the most secure method of payment. Hand the cashier cash and don't use a card. The credit card issuers will lose out and be forced to face the problems.....maybe.


Posted by RUKidding?, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

If the same key opened up all the scanners at most grocery stores
wouldn't there be public outcry? These gas stations are collecting our information and leaving it out on the street for anyone to get...literally! Can the city council take action to, AT THE VERY LEAST, require that a unique key be needed for pump locks at each station? Smells like a great ordinance to me. Good lord, I was really shocked to hear how easily this info can be had.


Posted by Marshall, a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I agree with RUKidding!

Unfortunately changing the key won't do much. Those types of locks are too easy to pick.

They need a sensor/alarm that gets tripped each time the pump is opened. Even my $500 PC has such a device on it!

These gas stations are being negligent, and should be fined or shutdown.


Posted by The Eye, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I work as a professional in the electronic security industry, and a simple magnetic door contact affixed to each pump's access door, and tied into the station's existing alarm system (it better HAVE one!), would cost literally only a few dollars for the contacts, and a small amount of wire, for the tie-in. You're talking only about $100 for materials and labor, tops.

And then everyone can feel a bit safer, hopefully.


Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Mar 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

The following comments were moved from a duplicate thread, which has now been closed:

They're really stealing from the credit card companies, not consumers...who cares?
by Hama Mar 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm


I care. I was probably one of those who was skimmed. Luckily AmEx detected that someone was testing my account with small charges. It was a major hassle after getting my new card to go and change the dozen of autopays accounts that were using that account. I can just image the nightmare those people had who have to dispute charges with their credit companies.
by Eric C Mar 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm


Posted by whogots, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Any word on how long this was going on before the mid-December police tip? I don't live in the area, but visit frequently and have used some of those stations within the past year.


Posted by mop, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

The other problem with reporting fraud on your credit card is that although it is not your fault, per se, your credit score has the potential to take a hit from the action, as it is recorded as possible negative activity when they close your account and issue you a new card.


Posted by RandyBQuaid, a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 5:32 pm

When will you people learn that credit cards, i.e. instant loan on a piece of plastic, is not safer, not faster than cash? Ooooh, you lust like their pretty commercials on TV telling you they are faster and safer and easier than using cash.

Your all a bunch of gullible sheep who are mezmerized by pretty commercials. (Baaaaaaaa said the sheep)

Enjoy your plastic tracking device.


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