Five men were charged Friday with multiple counts of identity theft after they allegedly used re-encoded credit cards to buy and resell gas for profit, police said.
The men — Norik Tergalstanyan, 45, Arman Karapetyan, 24, Andranik Tashchyan, 57, Allen Babakhanian, 19, and 48-year-old Ruben Petrosyan — were named in the 17-count Los Angeles County Superior Court criminal complaint, which included felony identity theft and grand theft of access card charges for allegedly stealing personal bank account information belonging to 13 victims from Washington state.
“These guys were using credit cards out in the open,” Glendale Police Det. Jonathan Owen said. “They weren't scared to even use the cards.”
The five-week-long investigation began after police received an anonymous tip that the men were using re-encoded cards and buying gasoline, Financial Crimes Sgt. Harley Wing said.
While monitoring the men, detectives saw and photographed them using the cards at a Shell gas station on the 600 block of North Pacific Avenue, police said.
Police also spotted them using the cards at gas stations in Burbank and Van Nuys, Wing said. During the surveillance, detectives saw the men buy $2,000 to $3,000 worth of gas, he added.
At one point, detectives saw the men exchanging what appeared to be credit cards with long-haul truck drivers, police said
Police said they believe the men were selling the re-encoded cards for about $2,500 to truck drivers, who would then use them to buy gas. Detectives did not obtain enough evidence to file charges related to that alleged scheme.
Tergalstanyan, who is on probation for forgery, was running the operation, Owen said.
Detectives obtained warrants and searched their homes, where they found about 23 five-gallon tanks of gasoline and tubes used for siphoning, Owen said.
“Gas is a hot commodity right now,” Owen said.
He said the men were siphoning gasoline into the tanks from their vans and filling up the tanks.
Detectives also found about 100 re-encoded cards and nearly $15,000 in cash, police said. Of the 100 cards, 10 gift cards were re-encoded with the identities of Antelope Valley residents, Owen said.
Investigators later discovered some of the cards being used to buy gas were used by means of a credit skimmer placed at a Shell gas station in Olympia, Wash., he said.
Following the theft, the gas station has upgraded its security system and replaced any locks to access credit skimming devices to protect its patrons from identity theft, Owen said.
All five men pleaded not guilty, and are due back in court on June 26.