Local News

Wednesday, Dec 12 2012 04:53 PM

Two women, teen, held in scam to steal money from ATM machines

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Three people are in custody and Secret Service agents met with Bakersfield police detectives after they say a suspect planted a card skimmer and video camera on a local bank's ATM in order to capture bank card and PIN numbers.

Chase Bank security called police Tuesday and told them about the suspect, who was recognized as being responsible for several similar incidents in the San Bernardino area, Bakersfield police said Wednesday. The suspect is part of a bank burglary and forgery crew that plants these devices and returns later to retrieve them and the captured information, police said.

Chase Bank spokeswoman Eileen Leveckis said they believe customer impact was minimal because the suspect didn't have an opportunity to retrieve the device. She said these types of incidents are rare, but there is often a spike from October through December.

Leveckis urged Chase Bank customers to review their accounts and notify bank officials immediately if they notice any unauthorized transactions or other suspicious activity.

"All of our accounts have zero liability protection, which means customers are in the clear if they spot an unauthorized transaction and notify us promptly," she said.

Police found Tuesday's suspect in a grocery store near the bank's location at 6085 Coffee Road and followed him to a vehicle occupied by three others, according to police. The suspects drove to the area of Coffee and Hageman roads and ran when officers tried to contact them.

Three suspects were arrested and a fourth ran into a nearby neighborhood and remains at large, Bakersfield police Sgt. Uriel Pacheco said Wednesday afternoon.

A search of the suspect vehicle led to the discovery of more skimming devices, computers, counterfeit/ stolen credit cards, drugs and two loaded handguns that had previously been reported stolen, Pacheco said. The suspects were booked on suspicion of offenses including burglary, conspiracy and identity theft.

Sisters Rhianna Lyn Lawrence, 35, and Dawn Marie Lawrence, 40, both of Victorville, are being held on $1 million bail, Pacheco said. A 16-year-old juvenile was also arrested and taken to Juvenile Hall.

Pacheco said the fourth suspect was described as a Hispanic man, 20 to 30 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 200 pounds, with dark hair and dark clothing.

The Secret Service is assisting the BPD with examining the skimming devices and with the investigation overall, Pacheco said. Detectives are going through evidence to see if other ATMs were used and to find other victims.

Pacheco recommended that ATM customers use a hand to conceal the numbers on the keypad while they're entering their passcode.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Finney at 326-3567 or the Bakersfield Police Department at 327-7111.

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