News and Press Releases

Man Charged with Using Skimming Devices to Steal Credit Card Information at Gas Stations

September 20, 2010

Las Vegas, Nev. – Federal charges have been filed against a man for making and using counterfeit credit and debit cards encoded with information skimmed from gas pumps in Las Vegas and elsewhere, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Zelalem Berhe, 41, of Las Vegas, is charged in a criminal indictment with five counts of bank fraud, possession of 15 or more counterfeit access devices (credit/debit or gift cards), possession of access device making equipment, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment was returned on August 10, 2010, and unsealed yesterday, September 19, 2010, when he was arrested in Las Vegas. If convicted, Berhe faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine on each bank fraud count, up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each access device count, and a minimum of two years in prison on the aggravated identity theft charge, which must be served consecutively to the sentence for any other count. Berhe is scheduled to appear before a United States Magistrate Judge in Las Vegas at 3:00 p.m. on September 21, 2010.

According to the indictment, during two local traffic stops of Berhe on February 7 and May 4, 2010, officers recovered devices used to steal the magnetic information from credit/debit cards (skimmers), access device making equipment (laptop computers and software), and 18 counterfeit credit/debit cards. An investigation was opened by the U.S. Secret Service, the Southwestern Identity Theft and Fraud Task Force (SWIFT), and the Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF), which investigates identity theft and complex fraud cases involving crimes committed utilizing emerging technology in southern Nevada.

From about April 16, 2009 to May 4, 2010, the Indictment alleges that Berhe and un-named others installed skimming devices at gas pumps in the Las Vegas area, as well as in other locations, including Florida and Arizona. Berhe and others used computers, encoders and software programs to transfer the stolen credit and debit card information to counterfeit credit and debit cards through a process called re-encoding. A re-encode is when an individual uses a genuine credit card and erases the magnetic information on the magnetic stripe on the rear of the card and re-encodes the card with the stolen magnetic information, thus altering the card and making it counterfeit. Berhe and others allegedly skimmed approximately13,800 credit and debit card account numbers using this system, and unlawfully used the stolen account numbers to fraudulently obtain approximately$591,872 from over 10 financial institutions.

This case is being investigated by SWIFT, comprised of Special Agents from the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Henderson Police Department and North Las Vegas Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly M. Frayn is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

For more information about consumer fraud and identity theft, visit the FTC's identity theft website at

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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