I don't know how good of an idea it is to print stories like this. Law enforcement is, in essence, admitting that these types of crimes are very difficult to solve.
Criminal Minds have to be thinking that, compared to robbing a bank, for example, skimming seems to provide less danger, (non-violent) a higher take (not many bank robberies result in an $800k purse), and the risk of getting caught is lower. Scary thought, yes, but off base? Me thinks not. I covered this story back in July...the update is that there is no update. They haven't made any headway as far as identifying who the culprits are...
Gas debit thieves still on the loose
Police still haven’t caught up with the scam artists who made off with half a million dollars this summer from debit card information stolen at two Pierce County gas stations. Local agencies are coordinating with police in California and with federal agents to stop what they believe is a crime spree that spans the West Coast. The patient and wily thieves are believed to have left a wake of at least 675 victims and $800,000 in losses, according to police and news accounts.
“We are in touch with multiple agencies up and down the West Coast and the FBI is involved,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said Friday. “We’re swapping photos and other information.”
But despite those efforts, the thieves remain steps ahead of their pursuers.
“We haven’t really made any headway as far as identifying who these people are,” said Puyallup police detective Jason Visnaw said Thursday. His case alone has 283 victims with losses of more than $268,000.
The crimes have several common features:
• The thieves target ARCO stations, which take debit cards but not credit cards.
• They use card-reading devices placed on the payment machine to “skim” account and PIN information.
• They often wait for months after taking the card information before making withdrawals – which is long enough for surveillance video to be taped over.
• They raid their victims’ accounts over holiday weekends, when there’s a better chance the thefts will go undetected for an extra day.
The thieves drew on accounts stolen from the station at 1502 South Meridian St. over Memorial Day weekend. Over the July Fourth holiday, more than 125 people who used their debit cards at the ARCO at 11608 Meridian Ave. E in South Hill became victims; they had all used their cards at the station the previous August.
The July Fourth case was investigated by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. A total number of victims and losses was not immediately available. Earlier estimates placed Pierce County losses around $500,000.
A May San Jose Mercury News article said a group that had targeted stations in South San Jose and Los Altos was “likely the same group that has been targeting stations statewide.”
San Jose detective Patrick Ward told The News Tribune that his case alone involved another 190 victims and another $210,000 in losses. The Los Altos case has more than 80 victims and $100,000 in losses.
Los Altos detective Wes Beveridge said the case is being investigated by a high-tech task force composed of officers from several jurisdictions in northern California and the FBI. “We’ve got one of the suspects identified,” he said, noting it was unclear how big the group is. “I’ve got six different suspects in my cases.”
The information police have gathered indicates the group may have been active in Florida and Arizona before making southern California its home base. Members of the group are thought to be from Eastern Europe and are likely sending the proceeds overseas, possibly to fund other illegal activities, Beveridge said.
A comprehensive estimate of victims and losses was not available. Photographs from several ATMs where the thieves made their withdraws have been released to the public.
“Right now we’re all kind of in the same boat,” Ward said. “We’re trying to contact as many local agencies as possible. At this time, we don’t know exactly what the entire scope of it really is. It’s still an ongoing investigation.”