Bank account data swiped in gas-station scam

November 10, 2006

By Cindy Carcamo, The Orange County Register

Hundreds of people had their bank account information compromised when they paid at outside pay pumps at three gas stations in Orange County and one in Torrance, police reported Thursday.

Police suspect that thieves used a device to record account numbers and pin codes onto memory chips from pay-point islands at an ARCO station in Westminster, one in Torrance and at least one in Costa Mesa, said Detective Sgt. Jim Kingsmill with the Westminster Police Department's property-crimes unit.

The Orange County stations were targeted from Sept. 29 to Oct. 9. The stolen information was later used to craft fake debit cards to fraudulently withdraw up to $502 per ATM transaction at 7-Eleven convenience stores and Wells Fargo ATMs in Las Vegas, Kingsmill said.

"I would be willing to bet that someone is stealing cards here and going to La Vegas, having a good time," he said.

ARCO officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

At least 16 people have told Costa Mesa police they were recent victims of identity theft on this particular case, Costa Mesa police Sgt. Marty Carver said. In Westminster, police said, at least 12 people have reported being victims of identity theft after using a pay-point island at a gas station.

Authorities said they have no suspects.

Costa Mesa police would not name the targeted gas stations in the city. Carver said 440 people who paid with debit cards at two gas stations had bank accounts compromised.

Kingsmill said Westminster investigators discovered someone had attached a sort of skimming device inside or outside a pay-point station at the ARCO on Westminster Boulevard and Willow Lane. It's believed that the device could read account information from 115 cards from Oct. 6 to Oct. 9 and record it onto a memory chip before being removed.

"Very sophisticated device," Kingsmill said.

Costa Mesa and Westminster officials have passed on information to federal officials because it may be linked to other cases already under investigation.

Kingsmill said they are looking into groups such as organized-crime networks, which have been linked to similar cases.

"We don't know how big this is," Kingsmill said. "This could be huge or some smart crook here in Orange County."

Anyone with information about this case or who believes his account was compromised in this case can report it to local law enforcement.

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