Santa Barbara – An alert fraud investigator employed by Chase Bank, working from a remote location, detected two “card skimmers” operating at the bank’s downtown Santa Barbara location in the early evening of May 30th, and promptly notified Santa Barbara Police Department detectives of the specifics.
According to SBPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Riley Harwood, remotely controlling the bank and ATM security cameras, the investigator was able to identify the placement of the two illegal device locations, as well as the installations of a pair of miniature cameras placed in such a way as to be able to purloin both ATM and debit card numbers as well as their associated PIN numbers.
The unidentified remotely-located investigator reported to detectives that the suspects had not yet been observed, but that “in cases like this” they generally return to the scene within two hours to recover their equipment and any stolen data. Working on that suggestion, SBPD officers established surreptitious stakeout points with clear sightlines to the bank’s entry points.
The cops didn’t have to wait long. Just 90 minutes later, Hagop Krikor Soukiassian, a 37-year old resident of Glendale, was spotted “removing the skimmer and cameras that had previously been installed” by his accomplice, Mike Vartabedian, a 42-year old hailing from Pasadena. Within a period of 30 seconds, Soukiassian—now in possession of the card skimmer device and the mini-camera installed to record customers as they provided their PIN numbers—climbed into a waiting car driven by Vartabedian.
But just as Vartabedian endeavored to drive away from the scene, the getaway car was surrounded by SBPD officers with guns drawn. Both suspects were arrested and transported to Santa Barbara County Jail where they were charged with burglary, conspiracy, and possession and use of a scanning device with intent to defraud, with their bail set at $250,000 each.
Photos: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Jail Booking