Modesto police arrested two men suspected of using a video camera to steal gas card information from unknowing customers and making counterfeit gas cards to fill up their own tanks — free of charge.
Modesto police officials said the two men used the fake cards to steal at least $20,000 worth of gas.
Jesse Cruz, 29, and Dwight Ken Seitzer, 31, both of Modesto, were arrested on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy, grand theft and forging gasoline access cards, according to a Modesto police news release. Each of the charges is a felony.
The investigation centered around Modesto-based Boyett Petroleum.
Never miss a local story.
In early March, Boyett Petroleum officials began seeing unusual gas purchases from some of their customers, according to police.
Company officials were able to confirm the purchases were fraudulent and began investigating to determine whether the thieves were within their own company or were stealing gas card information from customers.
Early this week, Boyett Petroleum officials determined the thefts were not occurring within the company and contacted police to help in the investigation.
Economic Crimes Detective Dave Hawn met with company officials and they were able to determine with surveillance videos that the thieves were videotaping customers as they paid with their gas cards.
Detectives believe Cruz and Seitzer would pull into a gas station and videotape customers from the back seat of their vehicle.
Each Boyett Petroleum gas card has a series of punched-out holes. The gas pump card reader uses the card's holes to match with the customer's personal identification number, said Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Craig Gundlach.
He said Cruz and Seitzer used the video to see how many holes were on the card and the customer's PIN. They then used the stolen information to create the fake cards, using them multiple times to fill their own vehicles.
Cruz and Seitzer also used the fake cards to fill their friends' vehicles and sell gas to others at 50 cents per gallon, Gundlach said.
Using a description of a white Chevrolet Tahoe, Boyett Petroleum officials alerted all of their local gas station employees.
Thursday morning, employees at the Boyett Petroleum station at 4537 Broadway Ave. in Salida saw two men in a white Chevrolet Tahoe acting suspicious. They called Hawn and one of the employees followed the vehicle when it left.
The employee lost the vehicle, but was able to write down a license plate number and notified police.
About 10:45 a.m., officer Jeremy Odegaard saw the vehicle at a Jack in the Box on Kansas Avenue in Modesto. Police officers stopped the sport utility vehicle and detained Cruz and Seitzer.
Officers searched the vehicle and found a video camera, a hand-held video monitor, equipment to create counterfeit gas cards and several completed fake cards that had been used recently.
"There are criminals out there who will go to great lengths to try and obtain your personal information," Hawn said in the news release. "When you are purchasing anything with a check or a card of any type, be mindful of your surroundings and the potential for someone to see your personal information."