SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Six people tied to an elaborate identity theft ring suspected of skimming credit card information from gas pumps throughout the Bay Area have been investigated after a two-year investigation, authorities said Friday.
The suspects traveled from Southern California to install electronic skimming devices at gas stations in Fremont, Los Altos, Mountain View, Redwood City, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale said Tom Flattery, a deputy district attorney in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
“This was a very prolific crew,” he said.
“I expect that at least in the short term that this is going to take a pretty good bite out of the gas pump skimmer crime in the Bay Area.”
Flattery said the two ring leaders in Yucaipa, 53-year-old Petra Vaca and her son, 33-year-old Luis Gomez, would send skimming crews to the Bay Area.
“A lot of times they’ll target affluent areas, people that they expect to have high credit limits and they also want to be able to shop at stores that have high end products that they can easily resell,” Flattery said.
Their scheme began to unravel with the arrests in 2012 of two suspects in Gilroy caught using counterfeit credit cards to buy Rolex watches, prosecutors said.
The credit card numbers on the fake cards had been harvested from a device, installed without either the gas station owner or the customer’s knowledge, which records every card swiped at a pump. Flattery said the suspects had recorded hundreds, perhaps thousands more numbers than they were able to use.
“Not all of those cards will have been compromised, probably because they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but we do expect that the total loss that we’re going to get to would be well over $500,000.”
The suspects are due back in court in March.