Duo arrested in gas station 'skimming' scam

Men installed chips in local gas pumps to 'skim' customer information from credit cards

A pair of high-tech bandits were able to steal more than 3,600 credit card numbers with six electronic devices -- known as "skimmers" -- planted at five gas stations in Mountain View and Los Altos, according to the county district attorney.

Boris Tumasyan, 24, and Sarkis Sarkisyan, 23, both from Glendale, were charged with eight felony counts, including conspiracy, altering a computer and acquiring credit card information with intent to defraud, after Mountain View police successfully implemented a sting to catch the two men.

Police were initially tipped off on Dec. 6, 2010, when a gas station attendant discovered a small skimmer -- capable of harvesting credit card numbers from unwitting customers -- attached to the circuit board inside a gas pump, according to a press release issued March 8 by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office.

Mountain View officers set an alarm on the pump's circuit board hatch, which was triggered on Dec. 17. Officers arrested Tumasyan and Sarkisyan as they attempted to drive their van out of the Valero station at 334 San Antonio Road.

After searching the duo's van, police found keys that opened the gas pump as well as address information for other stations in the area.

An investigation by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) -- a Bay Area high-tech and identity theft task force -- recovered six identical skimming devices installed at five gas stations.

In addition to the Valero, REACT officers found skimmers at three Shell stations in Mountain View -- 1288 W. El Camino Real, 110 N. Rengstorff Ave. and 807 N. Shoreline Blvd. -- along with one Chevron, located at 401 Main St. in Los Altos.

Tom Flattery, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said that skimming is a growing problem in the Bay Area.

A specialist in prosecuting high-tech crimes, Flattery said it only takes "a matter of seconds" to install the skimming devices, which are made from modified commercial credit card scanners used by retailers. Skimmers record everything needed to produce an exact replica of a credit card.

The ease with which counterfeiters can produce and install the skimmers is exacerbated by the fact that many gas pumps can be opened with the same key, regardless of the brand, Flattery said.

He said this type of scheme is "especially frustrating to consumers," because it is impossible to know from the outside which pumps have been hacked. Law enforcement has to rely on the diligence of individual gas station owners.

Consumers can feel safer if they go inside to pay the attendant or if they know that the stations they frequent have changed the locks on their pumps, he said.

The two accused suspects are currently out on bail and scheduled to appear in court on April 14. They face a maximum of seven years, eight months in prison if they are convicted.

Flattery said he believes he has sufficient evidence, which includes video footage taken from the Mountain View Valero, to secure a conviction.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Have all of the victims been notified? Or are they supposed to figure it out for themselves and then beg their credit card companies to cancel the fraudulent charges?

Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Are Sarkis and Boris members of the Russian mob? How did they get out of jail already?

Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Per an article in the San Jose Mercury News March 8, 2011:

Web Link

and the Reader Comments in the San Francisco Chronicle March 8, 2011:

Web Link

there's this information:

Armenian gangsters from the former Soviet Union. SoCal is so overrun with them that they are moving north. I grew up in the midwest where Armenians were pillars of the community. Doctors, lawyers, architects, businessmen. It was eye opening moving out here. The US is like a big candy store for Russian criminals, ethnically Armenian and otherwise. Remember, they worked at outwitting the KGB, so police in the US are chumps to them. Time to start cracking down and deporting them.

Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Who let them out of jail. They are from out-of-town and an obvious flight risk. We should keep them locked up until they can be deported back to Europe.

Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm

What judge in his or her right mind would release these guys on bail? Only 3,600 illegally-obtained credit card numbers! Can you say "flight risk"?

Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

3600 stolen credit card numbers that the police know about. How much do you want to bet that there is a lot more?

Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Did I read the article correctly - are the cops telling people to never use outside credit card readers because too many have been corrupted?

Like this comment
Posted by But I use that gas station!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm

I have used that Valero exclusively for many years. How can I find out whether they stole my credit card number? And why are these people being let out on bail?

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:34 am

This happens all the time - the scary part, they hold on to the numbers for months sometimes a year before they actually use them. By the time your card is used, there is no way to determine where or when it was compromised. Somone could already be sitting on your information.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:50 am


Photos of the skimming devices would be useful.

Like this comment
Posted by deport them
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 15, 2011 at 10:25 am

The article says the skimming hardware is hidden inside the gas pump and impossible for consumers to spot.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Peek inside the fine-dining Selby's, opening in Redwood City this summer
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 3,065 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 44 comments | 2,174 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 974 views

Premarital and Couples: "You're Not Listening to Me!" may mean "I don't feel heard."
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 733 views

Migraines and motherhood
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 473 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.