Two Venezuelan men have been arrested on suspicion of placing skimming devices on several bank ATMs in the region that led to $200,000 in withdrawals from victims’ accounts, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department reports.
The department’s Hi-Tech Task Force on Saturday arrested Luis Jose Ruiz-Gainza, 43, and Ricardo Gabriele-Plage, 36, a department news release states. The men were apprehended at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
In April, sheriff’s detectives were notified that several people were victims of identity theft and had money withdrawn from their bank accounts, according to the sheriff’s department. The investigation led to the discovery of skimming devices at several bank ATMs in the region.
A high-definition camera also was placed above the ATMs’ key pads underneath a cover to record customers entering their PIN numbers, the department said. The cover usually is painted a similar color as the ATM. The stolen account numbers and PIN codes were then used to unlawfully withdraw funds from the victims’ accounts.
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Detectives believe the suspects are part of a larger organized crime group of mainly Venezuelan nationals who travel to the United States to place these devices on ATMs, the release said. The suspects entered the U.S. legally with passports via Mexico, according to the department.
The crimes that occurred in April were during a two- to three-day period and involved 450 debit and credit cards, the sheriff’s department said.
Detectives recommend that customers sign up for activity notifications with their banks and credit cards so they can better track any unauthorized activity.
The department advises consumers to contact their banking institutions immediately if they feel any suspicious activity is on their accounts and then fill out an affidavit of fraud. Consumers are urged to submit an online report at www.sacsheriff.com/pages/services/reportcrimeinfo.aspx so complaints can be routed to detectives.
“The quicker you report (the fraud), the better chance we have of catching (the perpetrators), because they might still be using the card,” said Sgt. Tony Turnbull, sheriff’s department spokesman.
ATM skimmers are nothing new, Turnbull said, but the method used for the skimming reported in April differed from what his department typically encounters.
“Sometimes people will put skimmers on to collect data from the credit card, and then that credit card data is sent overseas and sold back to people,” Turnbull said. “That’s usually the investigations we deal with. This is a very quick scanning of your information to actually withdraw from your accounts … and they’re able to get a lot of information in a short period of time.”
According to Turnbull, the group behind the recent thefts can make a new credit card from stolen information in five minutes. He said authorities believe the same crime ring is behind ATM skimming in multiple states.
Investigations are continuing, he said, and detectives could find more than $200,000 in stolen funds.
News of the arrests come a day after the Placer County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook an alert about gas pump skimming.
According to the sheriff’s department, criminals have been using cannibalized cell phone parts to send credit card data via text message from gas pumps. They can receive real-time transactions of the credit card data from anywhere. With the credit card information, they manufacture fraudulent copies of the cards.
The states most heavily affected by credit card skimmers are California, Arizona, and Florida.
Organized crime rings have a handful of master keys that still open some pumps, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office reports. To put the device in the pump, one person will distract the station attendant as another person pulls up to a pump, in a van with the doors open, to block the view of the machine. The device is then inserted in the pump.
The gangs tend to target older pumps, stations next to major highways and stations that lack security cameras, according to the Facebook post.
The Sheriff’s Office advises motorists to use gas stations that appear to emphasize physical security. Also, officials advise avoiding debit cards. Instead, use cash or pay with your card inside the gas station, they said.
According to Turnbull, it’s hard to tell on sight when an ATM has been tampered with, but sometimes a slight color difference between an ATM and the small camera placed to spy on PIN numbers can reveal that a machine is compromised.