For release on February 21, 2014
Deputy District Attorney
High Tech Crimes Unit
REACT STOPS GAS PUMP SKIMMERS: SIX ARRESTED, FAKE CREDIT CARDS, DRUGS, WEAPONS SEIZED
A two-year REACT (the District Attorney’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team) investigation culminated this month in arrests and charges against members of a Southern Californian identity theft organization that secretly installed electronic “skimming” devices into gas station pumps to steal credit card information.
REACT investigators believe that three of the defendants, in custody on felony identity theft charges, are members of a single family, who organized the criminal efforts. Mother and son, Petra Vaca, 53, of Ontario, and Luis Gomez, 33, of Yucaipa, are scheduled to be arraigned at the Hall of Justice this afternoon. Facing similar charges, Lupe Castelar, 35, Vaca’s daughter, of Fontana, will be back in court on March 4 in Morgan Hill.
The “skimming crews” implanted electronic devices in gas pumps throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere, siphoned credit card information, created counterfeit credit cards, and then bought more than $500,000 in merchandise, mostly Apple computers.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said: “The motivation of thieves remains the same, but they are becoming ever more sophisticated, using technology instead of crowbars and handguns. REACT investigators are combining high tech forensics and old-fashioned police work to protect the community against a new generation of tech-savvy criminals.”
REACT began this investigation in 2012 after two suspects were arrested by the Gilroy Police Department for using counterfeit credit cards to purchase Rolex watches. The suspects and other members of the crew were identified as residents of Southern California, who had used counterfeit credit cards created from information “skimmed” from local gas pumps.
In December 2013, investigators tracked two crews who drove from Southern California to Sunnyvale to buy more than $80,000 in merchandise with fake credit cards. An investigation determined the credit cards were created from information stolen through skimmers inside gas station pumps in San Jose, San Francisco, Los Altos, Fremont and Redwood City.
During the arrests and searches in Ontario, Fontana, Whittier, and Yucaipa, California earlier this month, REACT investigators confiscated hundreds of counterfeit credit cards, dozens of fraudulent California drivers’ licenses, over two dozen credit card “skimming” devices, credit card manufacturing lab equipment, a kilogram of cocaine and multiple weapons, including assault rifles and a grenade launcher.