ID theft operation outlined

Authorities unsealed the indictments of 15 people involved in a Eurasian gang on Tuesday, revealing an organized crime ring that raked in about $1.5 million through stolen credit cards and identity theft in the Las Vegas Valley.

Seven other people are being charged only with state identity theft and fraud crimes but also on narcotics and weapons violations, Las Vegas police said.

U.S. Attorney Greg Brower said members of the gang in some cases had stolen credit card or debit card information using “insiders” at restaurants, bars and smoke shops.

In other cases, the suspects manufactured credit cards, he said.

“It is a significant problem, and it’s a significant problem in many parts of the country, particularly here in Las Vegas,” Brower said.

Local and federal authorities arrested most of the suspects in Southern Nevada and California on Monday and Tuesday. Some of the suspects are still at large, Brower said.

The suspects are facing federal charges including trafficking and possession of counterfeit devices, identity theft, production and use of counterfeit devices and fraud.

Brower said some of the suspects were involved in “skimming,” an act by which a person can obtain credit card information by running the card through a handheld counterfeiting device.

The gang members would have people working in restaurants, bars and smoke shops who would scan a customer’s credit card on a legitimate machine and then swipe it again with a counterfeiting device.

“Typically an insider is necessary and able to achieve the unauthorized capture of credit card information,” Brower said.

More than 1,000 credit and debit cards were compromised by the gang, and the victims included individuals, banks and businesses, authorities said.

Three of the suspects — 31-year-old Alen Torosyan of Henderson, 29-year-old Tigran Saponjyan of La Habra, Calif., and 30-year-old Paulette Vartan of Henderson — possessed 628 account numbers and magnetic credit and debit card strips that had been encoded with “skimmed” account numbers, authorities alleged.

Las Vegas police Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy advised people to protect their financial information. He said customers should watch workers at retail establishments and make sure the customer’s credit or debit cards are in view at all times.

He also advised people to shield their pin numbers from view when typing them.

“There were ways in which they captured pin numbers which enabled them to do this crime with ease,” McCurdy said.

The Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, made up of local police departments, the FBI and the Secret Service, was set up two years ago to combat the growing presence of Eurasian organized crime in Southern Nevada, Brower said.

Brower said he did not know why the influx was occurring but speculated that criminals have begun to view Las Vegas as a “potentially lucrative target.”

“We have a tourist economy with a lot of financial, consumer transaction activity in this town,” Brower said.

He said he did not know the immigration status of the suspects.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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