Police Arrest Trio - But Not Ringleader - Of Hackers Who Have Been Hitting CUs

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Police have arrested what they believe are three low-level accomplices in a local credit card ring that has duplicated cards from more than a dozen credit unions and banks, most of them based in the southern California, and then used the counterfeit cards to perform thousands of dollars of transactions.

But the alleged ringleader-who lived with his parents in their Whittier home until recently-remains on the run and appears to be continuing the scheme by moving from hotel to hotel locally to elude capture, according to Whittier Police Det. Ed Nyberg, who is heading the investigation. The alleged ringleader has been identified as 22-year-old Robert Foote. "He's got all the equipment," said Det. Nyberg.

The group has apparently hacked into the websites of numerous credit unions and banks and obtained confidential information, such as account numbers and PINs, then used the information to program magnetic stripes on the back of cards. The bogus cards were then used to buy high-end merchandise, including iPods, televisions, cameras, and other electronic equipment, and to buy gift cards and withdraw cash from ATMs, according to Det. Nyberg. "The cards have the legitimate names of the ring members on the front but were encrypted with the stolen information on the magnetic stripes," he said.

Among the institutions hacked are: LA Federal Credit Union, Vista Federal Credit Union and California Coast Credit Union, as well as MBNA and Commerce Bank in Kansas City. Several other credit unions and banks are also believed to have been victimized. "I've got credit unions all over the country that are involved," said Det. Nyberg. The number of victims appears to be in the dozens, he added.

So far Whittier Police have arrested three suspects in the ring who are believed to be low-level "runners" who use the manufactured cards to conduct transactions. They are: Demetri Mina, 45; his daughter Nyeelah Mina, 18, both of Sherman Oaks, and Nicolas Cocos, 25, of East Whittier. At least one of the suspects were identified from surveillance videos taken at local Target stores where they obtained at least $30,000 worth of merchandise.

Surveillance photos also captured a suspect's vehicle license plate, which led investigators to the Cocos home in East Whittier, Nyberg said.

The scheme appears to extend well beyond the four individuals and appears to be one of many plaguing area financial institutions and their customers, according to Nyberg. "This thing is much bigger than just these guys," he said.

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