TYLER, Texas (KETK) - Multiple law enforcement agencies took part Friday in the announcement of a lengthy investigation into a large-scale organized identity theft and credit card theft operation.
Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler introduced an overview of their investigation and the agencies involved.
Authorities stated five people have been arrested in Houston:
- Emilio Francisco Alvarez
- Hilda Perez de la Guardia
- Eligio Diegez-Arias
- Nolberto Neranjo Rivera
- Yamiel Alvarez-Guerra
At least two more are still wanted in Harris County by law enforcement:
- Jorge Rondon-Martinez
- Leidy Labrada DeGuardia
Other identities related to the investigation are known, but officials are not releasing those names at this time.
"This seems to be a hot bed for particular reasons, some of it because you have more rural areas," Tyler Police Sergeant Adam Colby said. "Some of it I have my suspicions, the size of the banks and the ability to quickly detect fraud."
Tyler Police said they noticed an increase of illegal gas pump activity back in April 2017, however, authorities have been looking into fraud related to skimmers for more than a year. This led them to the suspects in Houston.
Police found skimmers at 15 gas stations in the city and county respectively.
Victims include companies, with thousands of dollars stolen from them.
"We have 40 drivers and 40 cards," Todd Anjulus of Maddox Air Conditioning in Tyler said. "But it was just one driver that got skimmed. so understand that it was one driver skimmed and off of that one credit card out of 40 there was almost $30,000 worth of charges. All in Houston."
Detectives were able to discover some of the crimes were so advanced, the thieves would have cell capabilities to instantly receive information about their victim. Other times, the information had to be physically exported.
Once the suspect had information in hand, they would create clone cards and buy gift cards at self checkouts in stores, then use the money to purchase items.
The scheme could be fully executed in the same day, police said.
Officials confirmed thousand of East Texans were targeted and thousands more elsewhere.
Tyler officers worked with local banks, specifically Southside and Austin Bank to track down the suspects. Surveillance video was also key to their investigation.
Police said customers can protect themselves by using cash, getting bank alerts for unusual activity and checking to make sure red safety tape at the pump has not been tampered with by someone.