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Trio Arrested for 'Skimming'

Posted: February 18, 2008 2:39 a.m.
Updated: April 20, 2008 5:04 a.m.
 
Motorists using credit cards to pay for their gasoline should be wary after three suspects were arrested over the weekend for allegedly using a portable scanner to steal customers' credit card numbers in transactions at gas stations in Santa Clarita and Sylmar.

Credit card skimming such as the crime that took place last week at a Santa Clarita gas station is a common form of identity theft. According to a report published by Jodie Bernstein of the Federal Trade Commission, skimming is a practice in which identity thieves use computers to read and store the information encoded on the magnetic strip of a credit card when that card is inserted into a card reader such as those found at gas pumps.

"Once stored, that information can be re-encoded onto any other card with a magnetic strip, instantly transforming a blank card into a machine-readable ATM or credit card identical to that of the victim," Bernstein said in her report.

In Tuesday's credit card skimming scheme, the suspects apparently used a scanner the size of two fingers to swipe credit card numbers from at least two gas stations. A local gas station near Magic Mountain was one of the reported locations, while another station in Sylmar was also reported. Details on the locations were not released Sunday.

The Los Angeles Police Department, which made the arrest, identified the suspects as: Tigran Vardanyan, 18; Gevorg Vardanyan, 18; and Armen Sukiasyan, 19. All three suspects are from Van Nuys and are being held at the Los Angeles County Jail on charges of credit card theft.

Forgery detectives from the LAPD Valley Forgery Section are still investigating the scope of the scheme, meaning additional gas stations may be involved. The investigation will determine whether the suspects were involved in similar cases around the region.

According to LAPD Lt. Loren Farell, the three men allegedly bribed the clerk with $200 at the Sylmar gas station to get him to use the scanning device. The suspects tried to use the same device at the Santa Clarita gas station, but an employee there became suspicious and notified authorities. The manager at the Sylmar station was also suspicious when he saw the suspects hanging around the gas islands on Tuesday. After he reported his suspicions, the police connected the two incidents and arrested the suspects Friday.

Bernstein said victims of identity theft may incur debts in the tens of thousands of dollars. Individual consumers are not usually held liable for these debts, yet the consequences are still significant.

"A consumer's credit history is frequently scarred, and he or she typically must spend numerous hours, sometimes over the course of months or even years, contesting bills and straightening out credit reporting errors," Bernstein added.

"In the interim, the consumer victim may be denied loans, mortgages, and employment; a bad credit report may even prevent him or her from something as simple as opening up a new bank account at a time when other accounts are tainted and a new account is essential.

"Moreover, even after the initial fraudulent bills are resolved, new fraudulent charges may continue to appear, requiring ongoing vigilance and effort by the victimized consumer."

She added that financial identity theft continues to present a "significant threat" to consumers, and that consumers should make every effort to monitor their credit, including checking monthly statements and credit reports.

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