Los Angeles, California - A Los Angeles-area man has been convicted of possessing more than 1,400 credit card profiles stolen from consumers who used gas pumps with “skimmers” that illegally collected their credit card information.
Koren Robert Kechedzian, 24, of Studio City, was convicted by a federal jury March 11 of two counts of credit card fraud (specifically, two counts of possession of 15 or more counterfeit access devices) and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The charges are the result of a joint probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), IRS Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Secret Service.
At the conclusion of a one-week trial, the jury found that Kechedzian possessed two USB flash drives – commonly called “thumb drives” – that contained stolen credit card information. The portable drives were found at Kechedzian’s residence when federal authorities executed a search warrant in June 2013. At that time, investigators also recovered an illegal skimming device designed to be installed in gas station pumps to steal credit card data.
“As credit card thieves use increasingly sophisticated technology to access consumer data, consumers must be more vigilant in protecting their financial information and keeping a close eye on their transactions,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Law enforcement is responding to the increasing use of skimmers by working with businesses to help them secure their equipment and by more aggressively targeting those engaging in identity theft. This case demonstrates our commitment to protect consumers and to punish those who seek to defraud consumers and financial institutions.”
Special agents testified at the trial that credit card fraud rings install skimming devices in gas station pumps and obtain credit card numbers from the devices using Bluetooth technology. Customers who use these compromised gas pumps are the unwitting victims of the credit card fraud.
“The incidence of skimming, both here in Los Angeles and nationwide, has reached epidemic proportions and consumers need to very vigilant about any suspicious or unauthorized activity on their accounts,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “These types of crimes not only result in major losses for financial institutions and merchants, but can cause a major disruption in consumers’ personal finances. HSI will continue to work closely with its federal and local law enforcement partners to target skimming schemes and the criminal syndicates that typically are behind them.”
Bank records examined by investigators established that the stolen credit cards numbers on the USB flash drives came from Chevron gas stations in Palmdale and Moorpark, and testimony at trial showed that the data on portable drives was consistent with the output from a credit card skimming device.
“As credit card fraud becomes more prevalent, we are increasing our efforts to protect consumers from fraud artists committed to taking the identities of innocent victims,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony J. Orlando. “Law enforcement officers respond to credit card fraud with every legal resource available. Let this conviction serve as a warning to those who are considering similar conduct.”
Kechedzian’s sentencing is set for June 27. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the credit card fraud counts. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term.