PHILADELPHIA (WYXF) - Next time you fill up at the pump, you could be robbed. Thieves are installing secret bluetooth devices at gas stations. They're making big money and it's drawn the attention of the Secret Service in Philadelphia.
FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser reports.
"It really scares me because I didn't notice anything unusual. It makes me question using my credit card."
Marina Terwilliger knows what it's like to have someone steal her personal financial information. It happened to her just last month. That's when high tech thieves placed a bluetooth equipped skimming device inside a gas pump at the Exxon station where she fills her tank.
"I usually pull into pump number two," she told FOX 29.
Marina used her credit card at pump number two, filled her tank and went on her way. A few days later, she noticed something wrong when she checked her credit card account. Thousands of dollars in purchases she never made.
"For me it was well over $3,000 dollars. They were charging at an Ikea," she explained.
Marina says the skimming thieves went straight to Ikea stores in North Jersey and Brooklyn, New York, and started buying merchandise using her credit card information.
"Mine was a $2,050 charge at Ikea and then another $1,500 charge at Ikea," she added. "They went right to work after they got your information? Yes, they did. They probably got some nice furniture."
"It's a nationwide problem. We find skimmers all throughout the country," said Secret Service agent Hazel Cerra.
The Secret Service says these new bluetooth data skimming devices are being used by thieves to rob you right at your local gas pumps. One was recently installed at pump number two at an Exxon station on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Two were discovered at Marina's favorite station in Schuykill County and two more at gas stations in Baltimore.
"The criminals have basically "geek engineered" these devices. They're made at home," agent Cerra explained.
Video obtained by FOX 29 shows the skimming crews at work. They pull up close to gas pumps in a customized van. A passenger gets out to distract the gas station attendant. The driver's side doors of the van open to conceal the crew as they pop open the gas pump using a universal key and insert blue tooth skimming devices.
"They can just drive by the pump and download the data via bluetooth," agent Cerra told FOX 29.
Once the device is installed, it gets powered by the gas pump's own electricity and the thieves pull away. The device begins collecting data from the debit and credit cards of dozens of unsuspecting customers when they stop to fill up their tanks.
"It just really makes me angry," Marina said.
Last month, a federal grand jury in Philadelphia indicted two Armenian men and a woman in a sophisticated scheme that stole $225,000 from the bank accounts of unsuspecting local gas station customers in a ten day period. David Grkasharian, aka Davo, of Los Angeles, Levon Margaryan of Philadelphia and a woman from Glendale, California, are now charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and identity theft.
In court documents, the Secret Service says the man they call "Davo" traveled from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and moved into a luxury apartment on City Line Avenue. according to the Secret Service, he used that apartment as a base of operations during the gas skimming scheme here in our area.
In a secretly recorded conversation, Davo told a confidential informant, "March is the richest month in America, tax return month. even the poorest person gets money".
"It's scary because you just don't know anymore what you can do and what you can't do. Do I use a debit? Do I use cash? Do I use just the chip?," Marina said.
Secret Service agents say the Armenian skimming crew would sit a short distance away from gas stations with a laptop computer and download the personal information contained on debit cards along with pin numbers. then they use the stolen data to re-encode blank gift cards.
"They'll use these gift cards at various ATM machines to cash out," agent Cerra said.
Federal agents recovered $120,000 at Davo's City Line Avenue apartment and $107,000 at Margaryan's School House Lane residence.
"They've been able to successfully cash out about $20,000 a day," the agent added.
Skimming devices are also being used at bank ATMs across our area. Three guys were caught on camera recently installing one at a bank in Overbrook. Just last month, 36- year-old Gianluca Galota, of Italy, and Alin Uricaru, of Romania, were busted after allegedly installing skimming devices at a bank in Medford.
"Some bad guys have gotten good at using this as a skimmer so when you're trying to access the bank, you swipe your card inside thinking you're getting access into the bank, but really this is a skimmer and the bank doesn't have anything like this outside," agent Cerra said.
"Technology has increased so much, but it seems the criminals are one step ahead of it," Marina said.
Experts say you can minimize your exposure to skimming scams by using cash or going inside to a cashier to use your debit or credit card.
Finally, they have one last tip.
"We highly recommend that consumers check their bank statements," the Secret Service agent said.
"I'm more diligent now. I'll at my credit account statement quite frequently," Marina said."They're getting a lot of money and they're getting away with it."
At the time of these crimes, those two Armenian skimming suspects were awaiting removal from the country after receiving deportation notices from a judge. Federal agents say both men have extensive records for criminal activity here in the United States.