Two Cubans and an American allegedly traveled from Florida and fiddled with credit card skimmers on the gasoline pumps at a Minneapolis station in the middle of the night in what a leading state official is calling an emerging problem.
The group was discovered during a policy change in March by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to have gas pump inspectors check for the installation of skimmers or tampering to pumps.
Previously, inspectors checked only for pump accuracy, safety and fuel quality.
So far, inspectors found 28 skimmer devices across the state, said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. While skimmers have been used for years in ATMs and other machines, he said their use in gas pumps is increasing with advanced technology.
“Credit card skimmers hidden in gas pumps have been a growing problem in other parts of the country,” he said. “This case shows it is also an emerging threat to Minnesota consumers.”
The three men were charged Wednesday with four counts of identity theft and one court of possession of burglary or theft tools. They are identified as Asleys Acosta, 27; Roilan Garriga, 19; and Wilbur Armando Perez-Soca, 24.
Acosta and Garriga are Cuban citizens, while Perez-Soca is an American, according to the charging documents, which also list addresses for them in Tampa.
A witness spotted the trio and a van about 2:45 a.m. Saturday at the BP station at the corner of Franklin and 3rd avenues S., according to the charges. The station had closed for business at midnight. Police arrived and arrested the three suspects. They remain jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail ahead of Thursday afternoon court appearances.
Rothman said his department decided to make enhanced gas pump inspections a priority after learning that Florida officials uncovered dozens of incidents.
That also tipped them to a potential Florida criminal network sending teams to other states to install skimmers.
In April, state officials made a statewide sweep inspecting gas pumps and uncovered nine hidden credit card skimmers, which criminals use to steal consumers’ credit and debit card information. They were found at stations in both the Twin Cities metro area and elsewhere in Minnesota.
During three weeks of inspections, 8,500 credit card readers on gas pumps at more than 1,000 stations across the state were checked. The inspections prioritized stations with older pumps, which are considered more vulnerable, as well as stations located on heavily traveled streets and highways.
Police say Perez-Soca told them he rented the van in Florida, and the three had been staying at a motel in the Twin Cities. Police say the found a fake Georgia driver’s license on him.
According to the charges:
Police arrived and found in the suspects’ van several computers, numerous cellphones and a small drill with “a special bit.” Officers tested the drill and it opened a door on a pump, allowing access to its credit card processing devices. The pump had two skimming devices, one on each side.
The computers configure the devices and download the credit card information off the skimming devices.
Station video surveillance showed the three in action from 2:46 a.m. until police showed up nine minutes later. Skimming devices were found on five pumps.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he’s even reported two tampered gas pumps to station employees, adding that a great deal of technical skill is needed to rig the machines.
State officials say consumers can protect themselves in several ways:
• Jiggle the card reader and check the keypad. Is it raised or loose?
• Inspect the pump for any signs of forced entry, including broken security tape, tool marks or scratches that may indicate tampering.
• Be especially aware of pumps at the outer edges of a station.