Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Smart kid' gets prison for role in PIN fraud

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A young Quebec man with no criminal past was sent to prison Monday for his role in a Winnipeg credit fraud scheme that had the potential to bilk banks and credit providers out of more than $3 million.

Elia Yazigi, 21, was one of three travelling suspects who came to the city several times last summer to swap out PIN pads at local businesses with ones that looked identical but had been stolen and modified to collect the credit card data of customers.

Yazigi pleaded guilty to a range of charges, including committing a criminal act for the benefit of a criminal organization. He received 30 months in prison and was ordered by provincial court Judge Ray Wyant to pay $48,000 in restitution.

Between June and August, six city businesses were targeted in the data-skimming scam, resulting in $146,000 in actual losses when the illegally obtained data were passed on by unknown persons and used elsewhere -- including as far away as Italy, Crown prosecutor Terry McComb told court.

The police investigation found data from 1,400 cards acquired from four of the six businesses had been compromised.

If used to its fullest extent, it could have resulted in $3.1 million in losses, McComb told Wyant, who called the potential harm "just staggering."

A mystery of the case is how first-time offender Yazigi -- described as a hard-working shopkeepers's son from Laval -- wound up becoming "the unfortunate front man" for a mobile fraud ring perpetrating a sophisticated scam, McComb said.

"He's not the person who's profiteering," said McComb.

"It was pretty apparent he didn't understand the significance of the trouble he was in."

Arrested by Winnipeg police after being caught red-handed at a city restaurant, Yazigi professed to not know who headed up the scheme and refused to identify his co-accused.

They have yet to be arrested.

Yazigi rented hotel rooms and cars for his cohorts and told investigators he was to be paid $3,000 for the job. Police recovered a list of 80 potential target businesses, McComb said.

Defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk described Yazigi as a "smart kid" who was led astray after falling in with the wrong crowd.

"Opportunity knocked. He opened the door and walked through," said Sawchuk.

"When you fly with the crows, you get shot down with the crows," he said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 0

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