Five people have been arrested in a multi-agency credit card fraud investigation and more arrests are expected in the case.
Tyler Police Department Detective Jeff Roberts spoke about credit card skimmer fraud during a news conference Friday at the Tyler Police Department, 711 W. Ferguson St. in Tyler.
The investigation started in April when there was a spike in the area of credit card accounts being stolen through the use of gas pump skimmers.
The Tyler Police Department, Smith County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service worked to identify who might be responsible and spread awareness on what residents can do to protect themselves.
Investigators determined that people involved in this organized crime scheme were able to manually open the doors on gas pumps, attach a skimming device that captures card data and allows the gas pump to operate normally. The skimmers then use the credit card information to make a replica of that card. The criminals are accused of laundering money by using the cards to purchase gift cards from stores and businesses.
Investigations revealed there were no patterns to the time of day the skimmers were placed on the pumps. Surveillance showed that it took the suspects typically five minutes to break into the pumps and install the devices. However, it took 45 minutes in another instance, according to the detective.
“The passion is for us to talk about ways to protect yourself as victims. For the consumer using your credit card, I highly recommend you using real time data when a transaction happens on your account. I suggest you have texts every time you have a transaction,” Roberts said. “Pay specific attention at gas pumps, be aware of your surroundings.”
More than 15 gas stations in Tyler and 15 other stations in Smith County have become victims of the crime. Investigators determined that one business in the area was the victim of more than $28,000 worth of transactions.
Roberts suggests that businesses contact police as soon as they notice tampering on a gas pump. “Gas stations who did nothing after tampering occurred at their gas pumps were targeted again.”
Thousands of people throughout the country have been victimized. Some victims were from East Texas. Other victims’ credit card information was used in East Texas.
Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler said there are some pumps that are more secure than others.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. “One of the safest ways to pay for gas is with cash.”
About the suspects
Five people have been arrested and two others are wanted as result of a multi-agency credit card fraud investigation.
The suspects are accused of placing credit card skimmers inside gas pumps to obtain customers’ credit card information.
Those arrested or wanted include:
• Emilio Francisco Alvarez, who was arrested at a Florida airport while he was getting ready to board a plane to Cuba
• Hilda Perez de la Guarda and Yaiel Alvarez-Guerra, who were arrested in Bullard on May 20
• Nolberto Neranjo Rivera and Eligio Diegez-Arias, who were arrested in Tyler on July 9.
• Jorge Rondon-Martinez and Leidy Labrada DeGuardia, a married couple who live in the Houston area. The home the couple lived in was raided by authorities, and multiple credit card reincoders, credit cards, debit cards and identification was located, according to law enforcement.
The skimming and credit card cloning crimes are happening throughout the country.
Tyler Police Department Detective Jeff Roberts said the five people arrested and the other two are believed to be part of multi-concurrent investigations that loosely link the suspects to other groups and other organized crimes.
Roberts and Sheriff Larry Smith spoke Friday during a news conference on organized crime and law enforcement efforts.
“We’d like to thank everyone for the efforts and working together, we have a long ways to go. We have a good start on it, but this is the tip of the iceberg.”