SALT LAKE CITY — Thieves broke into Utah gas pumps to install devices that skimmed consumers’ credit card data, netting the conspirators $200,000, federal charging documents say.
A U.S. District Court indictment unsealed this week charged six people with conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in the alleged scheme that victimized consumers and their banks along the Wasatch Front.
The indictment listed, for instance, two of the defendants allegedly going to a Tesoro station in Sunset in the middle of the night April 30, breaking into a pump and installing a Bluetooth-enabled skimmer.
Crimes listed in the indictment occurred in Bountiful, Riverton, Scipio, Salt Lake City and other places, the indictment said.
The indictment did not explain how the suspects allegedly gained access to the pumps’ internal computer motherboards.
But state government regulators say security measures taken by retailers can prevent most such incursions.
According to the Wisconsin Bureau of Weights and Measures, gas pumps come from the manufacturer with universal locks and keys.
The agency recommends retailers use customized locks, plus padlocks, and closely control access to the keys.
Further, pressure-sensitive security seals are recommended for detection of unauthorized internal access.
Skimming devices usually are computer cards that are installed on a gas pump’s motherboard. Criminals then can later drive up to the pump and surreptitiously retrieve the skimmed data via a Bluetooth wireless connection, according to the federal indictment.
Miland Kofford, Utah’s weights and measures program manager, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The skimmers capture customers’ credit card numbers, names and zip codes from the cards’ magnetic strips, the indictment said.
The defendants then allegedly downloaded the digital credit card or debit card information and used the captured data to create cloned cards.
Then they used the cloned cards to make large purchases, often for significant amounts of fuel, the indictment said. Some of the defendants allegedly had external fuel tanks installed in the beds of their pickup trucks to collect fuel for later use or resale.
“We all routinely fill up our gas tanks, which means any one of us could have been victims of this alleged crime,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel of Salt Lake City said in a news release Wednesday.
“While the financial losses are significant, the victims are also left with the burden of taking the necessary steps to recover from the damage of identity theft,” Haertel said. “We encourage the public to regularly check their bank statements and report fraud to local law enforcement or the FBI.”
Three of the defendants were arrested in Salt Lake City on Nov. 20. The news release said the suspects had $40,000, skimming equipment and hundreds of cloned credit cards.
Those charged are Yosbel Delgado-Valdes, 40, Iraldo Pereda-Mendez, 32, Emmanuel Nina-Perez, 28, Jandry Artigas-Reyes, 35, and Yarislani Padron-Cruz, 35, all of Salt Lake City; and Yofre Napoleon Almonte, 47, a citizen of the Dominican Republic.
All have pleaded not guilty in their initial court appearances.
Almonte is being held in the Davis County Jail in Farmington on six unrelated fraud charges out of Bountiful that are pending in 2nd District Court.
The Justice Department news release said Almonte has been deported three times in the past 26 years and federal agents have put an immigration hold on him since his recent arrest.