Sacto 9-1-1
January 11, 2011
Two men plead guilty in wide-ranging credit card scam

By Loretta Kalb
lkalb@sacbee.com

Two men pleaded guilty in a sophisticated identity theft scheme and have been sentenced for their roles in stealing more than $90,000 from nearly 200 people in Northern California, including eight people in Sacramento County, the state Attorney General's office announced today.

David Karapetyan, 32, pleaded guilty to 37 felonies and received a seven-year prison sentence in Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez, an AG spokesman reported. Zhirayr Zamanyan, 31, pleaded guilty to five felonies and received a five-year prison sentence.

Two other defendants are scheduled to appear in court Feb. 15 in connection with the spree, which occurred from November 2009 to February 2010.

The AG's office reported that the men stole personal financial information with a sophisticated skimming device placed inside ATM and credit card payment devices at gas station pumps. The scheme was used in multiple jurisdictions throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento.

The thieves acquired keys to unlock various kinds of gas station pumps. Once they opened the pumps, they were able to connect two cables inside to their two-inch electronic device, which looked like a circuit board encased in electrical tape, and recorded ATM and credit card data as well as victims' PINs.

The gang would later return to retrieve the skimmers.

The scam was detected after authorities in Solano and Contra Costa counties reported a jump in identity theft cases; then a 7-Eleven store employee in Martinez discovered a skimming device inside a gas pump.

Police replaced the device with a mock unit and arrested Karapetyan and Zamanyan when they arrived to remove the device. In all, seven devices were found in gas pumps in Martinez, Benicia, Livermore, Hayward, Oakland, San Mateo and Sacramento.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073.

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