Four California men were arrested in what police said was a scheme to switch checkout-lane credit card readers at Stop & Shop supermarkets as a way to steal customers' numbers and passwords.
The men removed or tried to remove PIN pads from at least six stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and replaced them with alternate machines that would be used for several days to record shoppers' credit card information, authorities said Tuesday. The men allegedly planned to eventually come back and replace the original keypads.
The men were arrested Monday night while attempting to switch keypads at a store in Coventry, police said. A store security officer called police after employees noticed one suspect trying to remove a keypad while two others were seeking to distract workers.
Arutyun Shatarevyan, 20, Mikael Stepanian, 28, Gevork Baltadjian, 20, and Arman Ter-Esayan, 22, were arrested and charged with conspiracy, computer theft and fraud. They were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Kent County District Court.
Credit and debit card account numbers and PINs were stolen from the Coventry and Cranston stores in early February, the company has said. Stop & Shop, based in Quincy, Mass., said it also discovered similar tampering at four other stores _ in Bristol, Providence and Warwick, R.I., and in Seekonk, Mass. After that, the company bolted the keypads down in all its 385 stores.
Faith Wiener, a Stop & Shop spokeswoman, said those bolts stymied the alleged thieves on Monday night.
"They couldn't remove the PIN pad," she said.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the U.S. Secret Service was investigating to determine the scope of the ring. Lynch said thousands of consumers could be affected. He urged anyone who thinks their card data may have been stolen to watch their account statements and get a free credit report.
The thefts were first discovered after a bank notified Stop & Shop that two store locations were the common links to illegal purchases made elsewhere. Stop & Shop investigated and found evidence of keypad tampering.