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Sierra Madre gas station credit-card fraud victims climb to 282

January 6, 2011 | 11:31 am

Image001 Detectives have identified 282 victims of credit-card fraud at a Sierra Madre gas station and are turning their attention to a man who allegedly used a clone card at a Montebello bank.

With losses now topping $82,000, the investigation may extend to a second gas station in the city, and Sierra Madre Mayor Joe Mosca said the U.S. Secret Service is joining the probe.

“The nature of this crime and the number of people it has affected is highly unusual in Sierra Madre,” Mosca said.

Police say 75% of the victims are local residents who used credit cards at the station at 50 S. Baldwin Ave. since July.

La-me-gas-station Police are seeking to question the owner of EVG Quality Gas, identified as Evgeny K. Yakimenko, who has not been seen since the station closed shortly after Christmas, said Chief Marilyn Diaz of the Sierra Madre Police Department.

“He is a person of interest,” she said.

 Diaz said the credit and debit cards used at the station were skimmed using a special electronic device, and in some cases cloned cards were created. A cloned card is a fake card created with someone's stolen number.

“The cards were used in the days after Christmas when people aren’t paying as much attention to their bills,” Diaz said.

Investigators Thursday released an image of a man using such a card at a Montebello ATM to withdraw money.

The first victim reported an identity theft to police Dec. 27 after using her credit card at the station. By Monday, Sierra Madre police had received more than 175 fraud reports linked to EVG.

“There were so many people at the police station, it was like an open house,” said resident Sue Levoe, whose family credit card was charged for about $160 on Dec. 29, about four weeks after her husband bought gas at the station.

“Everyone in Sierra Madre knows someone who is a victim,” Levoe said of the community of fewer than 11,000.

Levoe said she recalls driving past the station in late December with an out-of-town friend who remarked on how cheap the gas was there.

Most of the multiple transaction cases involved ATM and retail transactions. Six cases involved six transactions each, and one involved nine transactions. The highest loss from an individual case was $3,782.

Although many credit cards carry a fraud limit -- which means the cardholder is not responsible for fraudulent losses beyond a specified amount -- the banks that issued the cards are still losing the money.

Mosca said “the suspects used the victims’ card information to withdraw and transfer funds, and to make retail purchases.”

Police are looking at whether the fraud extended to a Valero gas station in the city.

Detectives are asking anyone who recognizes the man at the ATM to call the Sierra Madre Police Department at (626) 355-1414.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Image of a man using a clone card at a Montebello ATM. Credit: Sierra Madre Police Dept.