Two men from Southern California face felony charges after they placed credit-card skimmers inside several gas pumps in Mountain View and Los Altos in December 2010, according to the Santa Clara District Attorney's Office Tuesday.
Prosecutors filed eight felony counts against Boris Tumasyan, 24, and Sarkis Sarkisyan, 23, that included conspiracy, altering a computer and acquiring credit card information with the intent to defraud. The pair was arraigned on Jan. 18 at the Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto.
According to the district attorney's office, on Dec. 6, 2010, a gas station attendant in Mountain View found a small electronic device attached to the circuit board inside a gas pump and called police. Officers responded and fitted the pump with an alarm that would signal the next time it was opened and someone tried to retrieve the device.
The alarm was triggered on Dec. 17, 2010, and police arrested Tumasyan and Sarkisyan after they found keys for the gas pump and information about the addresses of several other area gas stations in their van, prosecutors said.
Detectives also found six identical skimmers hidden inside gas pumps at five locations in Mountain View and Los Altos that revealed more than 3,600 credit-card numbers.
The four gas stations in Mountain View where skimmers were found are , 334 San Antonio Rd.; , 1280 W. El Camino Real; , 110 N. Rengstorff Ave., and , 807 N. Shoreline Blvd. In Los Altos, the at 401 Main St. was found with two skimmers.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Flattery said that those 3,600 credit-card numbers had not been compromised— that is, used criminally—because they remained on the card skimmers. Usually, Flattery explained, these devices just collected the numbers and then the numbers would get dumped into a computer.
Flattery added, however, that on Wednesday, he received several phone calls from people who said they had been victims of identity theft and that they had used those gas pumps.
"If you know you've been a victim and you know you frequented one of these stations, it's logical to assume that it may have been at one of these stations," he said, adding that consumers should take really good looks at their credit-card statements for irregularities. "If you see small charges like $1 to $2, that could be a test charge in preparation for a big hit."
Flattery recommends consumers call their credit-card companies.
One Mountain View resident found out the hard way that her card number had been skimmed—and used.
According to Melanie Kimbel, who lives in Old Mountain View, she used the Rotten Robbie on Whisman and East Middlefield Roads near the middle of December, 2010. One day, Kimbel received a call from her credit company about some suspicious purchases—video game consoles. Kimbel told her credit-card company that she hadn't bought those items.
Her company credited her card but also cancelled it—right before Christmas.
"I cannot pin point my problems to the Rotten Robbie, but it is so logical where my transaction took place," she said and added that she's meticulous about going through her statement every month. "I looked back at my previous days' transactions and had made purchases at and ."
Now she's switched to a cash-only approach when buying gas.
"I always used a credit card when I bought gas," Kimbel said. "But friends told me not to do that anymore. Several people told me that they had the same experience."
Prosecutors said credit-card skimmer scams have increased in the Bay Area over the past year and that it is difficult for a customer to detect a pump that has been compromised.
They said it is also a tough problem to combat, because many gas stations use pumps that can be opened with the same key. Gas station managers are advised to check their pumps regularly and notify police if they find anything unusual.
If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of seven years and eight months in prison.
Tumasyan and Sarkisyan, both residents of Glendale, are free on bail and will return to court on April 14.
The case was investigated by REACT, a Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office-led high-tech crimes and identity theft task force.
—Additional reporting by Bay City News Service