Man who applied for asylum in US accused of installing skimmers at Tri-State gas stations

Video shows a suspect installing skimmer in Butler Co.
Skimmer suspect Yosbel Ponce Bernal
Posted at 2:14 PM, Jun 24, 2019

CINCINNATI — A Florida resident and Cuban national is charged with installing gas pump skimmers in Butler and Hamilton counties, federal authorities said Monday.

Yosbel Ponce Bernal, 26, was arrested in Louisville Friday, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman.

Authorities said they traced the skimmers back to Ponce Bernal after testing a gas pump for fingerprints. The suspect’s fingerprints were on record “from previously applying for asylum in the United States,” a news release said.

The Butler County Auditor’s Office alerted the FBI to a skimmer in Fairfield in September 2018. The skimmer stored information for 27 different credit cards, the release said.

By October, a suspect was recorded on surveillance video installing a second skimming device at the pump, authorities said. Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds released the video of a person, believed to be Ponce Bernal, installing a skimmer at the Butler County gas pump on Oct. 25, 2018.

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"If you install skimmers in Butler County I’m going to confiscate your devices, catch you on camera and you will be prosecuted," Reynolds said in a written statement.

The auditor's office said the video also uncovered a new technique used to install skimmers inside a dispenser. That information was shared and used to find three skimmers that inspectors may not have discovered otherwise.

Reynolds said 24 skimmers were found in Butler County during a three-year span up to September 2018. No skimmers have been found since, but weekly inspections continue, he said.

"We’ve been aggressive in trying to protect consumers from becoming victims of fraud," Reynolds said. "It’s great to get one guy in custody but the criminal activity will continue as long as old pumps are being used."

Ponce Bernal is accused of installing skimmers on two pumps in Hamilton County in November as well.

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Installing gas skimmers is a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Gas pump skimmers are placed inside gas pumps to collect credit card information. A single skimmer can store information for hundreds of credit cards, federal officials warn.

Protect yourself from gas pump skimmers by practicing the following:

  • Use a credit card, not a debit card at pumps, so you can stop a fraudulent charge before you lose any money.
  • Use the pump closest to the store windows. Police say thieves typically install skimmers on pumps that cannot be seen by the store clerk.
  • Pay inside, especially if the station is off an interstate ramp, where criminals can easily come and go.