LOUISVILLE — Eight people have been arrested in connection with credit card skimming fraud investigations spanning multiple states including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.
At a news conference Friday in Louisville, representatives from the United States Attorney Western District of Kentucky's office, Kentucky FBI, Secret Service and the Louisville Metro Police Department announced results of the fraud bust.
The eight individuals face charges on alleged incidents at Lousiville gas stations on Bardstown Road, St. Andrews Church Road, Galeen Drive, Shelbyville Road, LaGrange Road and Hwy. 42 in Prospect. The incidents at these locations account for 7,000 individual card numbers that were compromised, leading to an estimated $3.5 million in losses.
The defendants — Misael Jose Fernandez Campos, Pabel Anguela-Vazquez, Andres Tomas Alvarez Hernandez, Leonardo Rodriguez Prado, Yusbel Folgosso Parrado, Miguel Yansel Castillo Fornaris, Noseln Hernandez Guerra and Lisandra Diaz Garcia — have been indicted by a federal grand jury and face charges that include possession of device-making equipment, conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud, money laundering, wire and bank fraud.
The investigations, which go back to 2015, involve 22 law enforcement agencies across the three states including departments from Clark, Scott and Harrison counties.
“This form of identity theft is causing untold losses to both financial institutions and individuals who are merely filling their tanks at the gasoline pump,” Russell Coleman, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said in a news release.
“As we begin the busiest travel season of the year, consumers need to pay special attention to where and how they pay for gasoline as criminals are using new and more sophisticated technologies.”
Skimmers may be secretly installed in places where people commonly use credit and debit cards — most often gas pumps and at times public ATM machines. The skimmer is placed inside the machine and acts as a USB — when the unknowing consumer swipes or inserts their card, the information is then recorded and can be used to make fraudulent purchases or clone the cards.
Once a skimmer is installed, someone usually has to return to the scene to retrieve it, but increasingly they are using bluetooth skimmers, the data from which can be scooped up from 50 feet away. Cellular skimmers work in a similar way and don't require the suspect to return to the machine.
Amy Hess, Special Agent with the Kentucky FBI, said that this is a “significant problem across the country.”
“It is invisible to consumers, who do not see anything nefarious going on,” she said at the news conference.
Suspects gain access to the pumps or other machines by way of a key or through tampering. But this also requires them to work quickly in the public space and obscure their actions from the clerks or cameras.
Richard Ferretti, Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, announced the use of a special blue tape placed on gas pumps in the area. It warns criminals and lets the public and station owners know if the machine has been tampered with by an outside person.
Although officials say the safest way to avoid this type of fraud is to pay the clerk directly with cash, there are other steps consumers can use to protect themselves:
• Use the credit card — not debit card — function at the pump. Funds that need to be repaid to individuals come back more quickly on credit card purchases. There may also be a pinhole camera installed that can observe the pin number typed for a debit purchase. Cover the pad if you type your pin.
• Do not use pumps that do not have the blue Secret Service tape on them or have signs of tampering.
• Avoid pumps that are off to the side and further away from the view of clerks or security cameras. This seclusion may make them easier targets for skimmers to be installed.
• Monitor your bank account regularly and if possible, sign up for text and email transaction alerts.
• Be vigilant when you make a purchase and report anything suspicious to your bank and law enforcement agencies.