Eleven people were arrested in a series of early morning raids in Los Angeles and Orange counties Tuesday as part of a years-long federal identity-theft and credit card fraud probe.
A warrant was served by FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies about 6 a.m. in the 13800 block of Mansa Drive in La Mirada, said Laura Eimiller of the FBI. Additional searches were carried out in La Habra, Whittier and Norwalk.
Authorities said two other suspects remained at large. Initial federal court appearances in downtown Los Angeles were expected after 2 p.m. for those arrested.
The warrants were served in connection with a 27-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday detailing a credit and debit card "skimming" operation.
Skimmers — small devices that can scan and store data from the magnetic strips on the back of credit and debit cards — were allegedly installed by conspirators in area restaurants, according to the indictment. The eateries were not identified.
Defendants would later retrieve the skimming devices, which were then used to re-encode new cards for shopping sprees at Apple, Toys R Us, Home Depot and Nordstrom, the indictment alleges.
"You have individuals sometimes at commercial locations who will steal the identity of individuals by taking their credit card numbers and identity,"
Eimiller said. "They will then replicate that card and the number and then proceed to use it at multiple other locations."
The investigation mainly involved the FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Huntington Beach Police Department, Eimiller said. Other agencies included the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Skimming occurs most frequently at retail outlets that process credit card payments — particularly bars, restaurants and gas stations. Once the card is unknowingly run through the skimmer, the data is recorded, and the suspects can sell the information through a contact or on the internet, at which point counterfeit cards are made, authoriites said. The criminals go on a shopping spree with a cloned copy of the credit or debit card, and cardholders are unaware of the fraud until a statement arrives with purchases they did not intend.