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Three Charged with Stealing More Than $150,000 From Nearly 200 People by Skimming ATM and Credit Cards at Gas Pumps

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The California Attorney General’s Office today filed criminal charges against three men who stole more than $150,000 from about 200 people by creating fake credit and debit cards from banking information they skimmed from ATM and credit cards through devices placed inside gas station pumps in Northern California.

“These thieves broke into gas station pumps and installed devices that collected customers’ debit and credit card numbers and ATM PINs,” Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said, “and later they used that stolen information to create fraudulent cards, make purchases and withdraw thousands of dollars from victims’ accounts.”

David Karapetyan, 32, Zhirayr Zamanyan, 30, and Edwin Hamazaspyan, 31, all of Los Angeles, were scheduled to appear today in Contra Costa County Superior Court to face charges. The complaint against them includes 42 counts of felony identity theft and one count of conspiracy.

If convicted on all charges, the three could each face up to 31 years in prison.

In March, the Attorney General’s office took over prosecution of the case from the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office because the crimes occurred in multiple jurisdictions throughout Northern California. An amended complaint was filed today.

In their high-tech crime spree, the three traveled to gas stations and banks across the Bay Area in a rented Cadillac Escalade. From November 2009 to February 2010, they are believed to have stolen $158,800 from 196 people.

They acquired keys to unlock various kinds of gas station pumps. Once they opened the pumps, they were able to connect two cables inside to their two-inch electronic device, which looked like a circuit board encased in electrical tape, and recorded ATM and credit card data as well as victims’ PINs. No tampering was visible on the outside of the pumps. The trio would later return to retrieve the skimmers, which took less than 20 seconds.

The investigation began in February when police in Solano and Contra Costa counties reported an increase in identity theft and a 7-11 Store employee in Martinez noticed a skimming device inside a gas pump. Police removed the device, replaced it with a mock device and conducted 24-hour surveillance. Karapetyan and Zamanyan were arrested when they arrived to remove the device. In total, seven devices were found inside gas pumps in Martinez, Benicia, Livermore, Hayward, Oakland, San Mateo and Sacramento.

Banks have reimbursed the victims.

The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, a partnership of 17 local, state and federal agencies, led the investigation with assistance from the U.S. Secret Service, Martinez Police Department and the Glendale Police Department.

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