Hiding at gas pumps: Credit-card skimmers

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2012 - 8:28 PM

After finding hard-to-detect devices at New Hope gas station, police offer tips to avoid scam.

Card-skimming devices like those discovered by authorities at a local gas station last week are difficult if not impossible to spot with the naked eye, but consumers can protect themselves with a few precautions, Plymouth's police chief said Friday.

The devices, designed to copy and steal credit card information, were found installed last week in six of eight pumps at a New Hope gas station as part of an investigation that led to the arrest of a California couple.

Sarkis Mkhsyan, 29, and Gohar Yesayan, 28, of Van Nuys, Calif., each were charged with nine felonies related to the scam. They remain in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $1 million bail each.

A search of the couple's car uncovered elaborate software and a handwritten list of more than 100 local gas stations.

Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein, whose department arrested the couple and is leading the local investigation, said police departments are checking with gas stations on the list to determine whether other devices were installed.

Goldstein said that older skimming devices used by criminals were visible if you knew where to look, but criminals now install the devices inside the pump.

During a search of the couple's car, police found a screwdriver and cordless drill, along with a computer and the skimming software.

"In short, it's very difficult for someone to know whether or not they are being victimized in this situation," he said.

Goldstein said it's safest for customers to pay for their gas inside the store, despite the inconvenience. If you do pay at the pump, he said, it's safer to use your credit card than your debit card; while money stolen from a debit account is gone, credit card companies often can stop illegal transactions.

The police chief said his department is urging gas station managers to occasionally inspect the insides of their pumps to ensure skimmers haven't been installed.

Goldstein said the theft ring is believed to be "widespread" and connected to Mkhsyan's May arrest in California, where he was caught with 40 Social Security numbers and fraudulent credit cards in different names.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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