Credit card skimmer found at Southern Utah gas pump leads to the arrest of 2

Composite image with background stock photo and overlay of Washington County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicle | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Las Vegas couple was arrested after deputies investigating an alleged card skimming report found the pair sitting in the backseat of a vehicle near Gunlock Road in Washington County on Wednesday morning.

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Washington County Sheriff’s deputies responded Wednesday to a fraud reported at one of the gas stations in Veyo involving a credit card skimmer that had been placed in a credit card reader at one of the gas pumps, according to the probable cause statements filed in support of the arrests.

A credit card skimmer is a device installed on a card reader that collects credit card numbers by reading the magnetic strip. This information can be used by thieves to make fraudulent purchases. The information can also be sold to other criminals and used to create fake credit cards using real credit information.

Gas stations have become prime real estate for credit card skimmers, and this type of fraud is on the rise across the country, as fraudsters use advanced technology that makes the devices harder to detect, and the information stored can be either downloaded or sent wirelessly.

At the scene, the report says, the reporting party told deputies they found the skimming device on one of the gas pumps, similar to a device that was recovered from another gas pump at the same gas station one week prior. The caller also reportedly provided still photos captured by surveillance footage that showed a man wearing a bucket hat to conceal his face as he was seen tampering with the same gas pump in which the manager retrieved the skimming device.

Deputies also obtained footage from similar activity captured early Wednesday morning when the same suspect wearing a similar-style hat of a different color was seen tampering with one of the gas pumps by removing the cover that protected the pump’s electronics.

Through the course of the investigation, deputies found that the cover was purportedly removed from the pump on Wednesday to allow the suspect to retrieve the device.

The caller also reportedly told deputies the man in the footage was not an employee, nor was he authorized to open any of the pumps.

In the meantime, deputies scoured the area in search of the vehicle shown in the surveillance footage, which was found stopped on the shoulder of Gunlock Road near mile marker 11.

Authorities say they approached the vehicle and could see opened bottles of what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage through the window and noticed a man and a woman sitting in the back seat, a couple later identified as Luis Miguel Rodriguez, 32, and Kayli Nicole Fontana, 35, both residents of Las Vegas, Nevada.

During a search of the vehicle deputies located a baggie containing suspected methamphetamine that dropped from the visor, along with several items of paraphernalia, the report states. In addition, deputies recovered a hat matching the one the suspect was seen wearing in the gas station’s security footage.

Investigators also seized a number of electronic devices, including a laptop, several hard drives and cellphones that were found inside the vehicle.

The investigation is still ongoing as detectives continue working to obtain search warrants for the devices and to identify those individuals who may have used their credit card at the pump during the time the skimming device was installed.

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Staggering cost of credit card skimming  

When it comes to credit card fraud, everyone pays the price since consumers and the businesses that serve them all suffer from this type of criminal activity – the cost of which can be staggering.

According to the FBI, credit card skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year.

Gasoline pumps are prime targets for card skimmers due to the high volume of transactions that occur daily. The rise is also due, in part, to newer technologies and 3D printers that can create a skimmer that is almost indistinguishable from the real ones, and while most of these devices in the past were installed on the outside of the pump, many are now installed on the inside making them even more difficult to detect.

Even with advancements in credit card security, including the implementation of a computer chip, the cards still contain the same information encoded on the magnetic strip and that data can still be stolen.

Retailers large and small are vulnerable. Even retail giant Costco Wholesale Corporation had a skimming incident this month, and the company was tasked with alerting customers that their payment information may have been stolen through a credit card skimmer while they were shopping at one of their stores, according to a report released by Security Affairs last week.

Costco found the card-skimming device in one of its stores during a routine check by store personnel. The company removed the device and alerted the authorities to the breach, and Costco officials are now working with law enforcement on the investigation.

How to avoid being skimmed by the scammers 

When fueling up, pay inside of the gas station instead of at the pump, and always use indoor ATMs whenever possible, since those are harder for thieves to tamper with. Inspecting any card reader device is also recommended.

Even wiggling the keypad and checking if anything is loose is a good idea. If anything seems amiss, don’t use the device. Instead, use a mobile payment app, such as Apple pay or Venmo, IDX Solutions says.

Following the arrest on Wednesday, both suspects were booked into jail in Washington County and formally charged the following day.

Both suspects face a third-degree felony count of  obtaining encoded info on financial transaction card and three misdemeanors – including one count each of  possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia and an open container charge.

Rodriguez also faces a third-degree felony charge of possession of a forgery device and one count of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. Both suspects made an initial appearance in 5th District Court on Thursday and are scheduled to be back in court next month.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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