Deputies make largest gas skimmer arrest in Louisiana history

Juan Fuentes (Source: Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office)
Juan Fuentes (Source: Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office)
Serafin Fuentes (Source: Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office)
Serafin Fuentes (Source: Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office)

IBERVILLE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office made an arrest early Thursday morning that is being called the "largest arrest in gas pump skimming in Louisiana ever."

Around 3 a.m., deputies made a traffic stop that resulted in the seizure of dozens of credit cards, three laptop computers, and five card reading devices that could be used to identify possibly $2 million in theft and credit card fraud.

"This probably saved two years of investigative works in one night," said Lou Velez with the U.S. Secret Service.

Because of the magnitude of the investigation, which covers multiple jurisdictions and multiple states, the Secret Service was called in to assist in the investigation. The Secret Service handles skimming investigations. The father and son duo, Serafin and Juan Fuentes, were pulled over on I-10. Both are from Miami, Florida. Inside their car, deputies say they found the skimmers and other items. Each man now faces charges of monetary instrument abuse and access device fraud. Juan also faces a charge of improper lane use.

Once installed in a pump, the high-tech skimmers can rip data from the credit cards of unsuspecting customers. Each can hold the data of around 800 to 1,000 credit cards, according to Velez, who compares it to "crabbing."

"You put a bunch of traps and you go. Eventually you'll let those harvest with all the numbers and get full. Then they'll come back and pick them all up," Velez said.

The scammers can then transfer account information onto gift cards and prepaid cards and use the money to make purchases. Officials said the skimmers could be found anywhere.

"These two guys that we caught, they are the foot soldiers that go out and do the work," said Iberville Sheriff Brett Stassi. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Stassi said the pump skimming scheme is likely part of a multi-state operation with several criminal groups involved. Soon, investigators will begin to look into the information stored on the computers and skimmers. That means the total amount of fraud could add up to be even greater.

Stassi said the best way to stay safe at the pump is to use cash. When using a card, Stassi recommends people use credit rather than debit because then there is no need to give out a PIN. Stassi also recommends that people check their bank and credit card statements frequently.

Both men were both booked into the Iberville Parish Jail.

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