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Sierra Madre gas station skimmer nets $62K

January 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
More than 200 customers who used credit cards at a Sierra Madre gas station claim they're victims of identity theft.They charged gas at the EVG station at Baldwin Ave. and Suffolk Ave. Police say they've been hit with about $62,000 in fake charges.

Wendy Thermos was one of at least 50 people who filled out fraud reports at the Sierra Madre Police Station Tuesday. She was ripped off for $175 and only found out about it because of a warning sent to residents by police.

"A lot of people buy their gas there," said Thermos. "It was the cheapest guy around for miles around and you know I think that people haven't gotten their statements yet."

It's not an uncommon fraud. Identity thieves put a skimmer in the credit-card reader where the more sophisticated devices can read the machine from across the street. As of Tuesday, the losses were more than $62,000.

Malcom Hardwood found the discrepancy on his credit-card bill.

"There was $178 gone and that's a lot more gas than I carry," said Hardwood. "But I didn't get any gas. I did swipe the card -- the thing wouldn't work. It wouldn't accept my card. I had to do it again. I did it actually twice. Maybe that's why it was so much."

The station is closed and empty. Sierra Madre Police Captain Larry Giannone says they have suspects but no arrests. He says no employees are suspects.

"Part of this was they were only accepting credit cards, no cash," said Giannone. "So people were giving credit card information and from that point on it started stemming that we were getting more and more of these cases."

And it's not just the gas that credit card numbers are being used to purchase. One victim was hit with $3,800.

"They are taking the numbers and going elsewhere now," said Giannone. "We have had about nine cases where ATMs have been used, so they are obviously making duplicate ATM cards and obtaining cash at different points of sales."

It's reportedly not uncommon for thieves to get into pumps without anyone at the station knowing about it. Criminals picked the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas because it takes so long to process the credit-card receipts.

Police suggest you take a look at your credit-card bills, look very carefully for problems, and suggest you use a credit card, not an ATM card, because that can also give up your personal identification number and a lot of money.