Credit Card Skimmers: CT Drivers Should Pay Cash For Gas

Filling up the tank for a roadtrip could cost you a fortune — not because of prices at the pump, but the credit card skimmers hidden inside.


Do yourself a favor when you're filling up with gas for this weekend and pay with cold, hard cash, the Secret Service recently warned. Clever fraudsters have installed credit card "skimmers" at fuel pumps across the nation — including Connecticut businesses — to steal unsuspecting motorists' personal financial information — and ultimately, their money, the agency said.

Skimmers aren't new, but new technology makes them smaller and almost impossible to spot, In some cases, the scammers don't even have to return to the fuel pump to recover the information because they use Bluetooth technology to access it remotely.

The Secret Service said recently it conducted operations in 21 U.S. states to locate and recover the devices targeting travelers during the recent 4th of July holiday. A similar crackdown over the Memorial Day holiday turned up 70 skimming devices.

Connecticut is far from unaffected by the trend. There have been skimming incidents in Naugatuck, Wilton, Essex, Rocky Hill and Avon.

"These initiatives demonstrate the commitment of the Secret Service to combat cyberenabled financial crimes and secure our nation's financial infrastructure," the agency said in a statement. "Special Agents and Investigative Analysts from around the country will continue to work closely with state and local law enforcement partners to minimize risks by informing the public and apprehending those responsible for credit card skimming operations."

The skimmers can be installed in other equipment that scans credit card numbers, but gas stations are "a prime target due the frequency of use and the criminal's ability to install the devices and recover the stolen data undetected," the Secret Service said.

"Because today's gas pumps are typically unattended, developing suspects and making arrests in skimming cases is difficult — but not impossible," the agency said. "The Secret Service is leading the charge to protect the U.S. consumer against this growing cyber-enabled financial crime."

The electronic skimming devices are tiny and most people won't know they've been victimized until they notice unusual activity on their bank or credit card statements.

"So what happens is you go to your local gas station, you put in your payment card, you pump your gas and you drive home," Matthew O'Neill, assistant to the special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division, told ABC News. "But in what's in reality happening is during that transmission process, a skimmer is acting in between where you put your card in and the point of sale terminal that's transmitting the data to a financial institution and they're stealing your payment card numbers."

Once that happens, the scammers have access to your money and all your credit will buy — and the ability to turn your world upside down financially.

"They're monetizing the stolen payment card data in multiple ways and the easiest way is they'll take the stolen payment card number and will re-encode a gift card or credit card and then they will use that to buy electronics, gift cards, stuff that they can fence on grey market, the black market or the open market," O'Neill told the network.

Here are ways people can try to avoid skimmers, according to police:

  • Pay inside or use a gas pump that is within the view of the gas station attendant.
  • Use credit instead of debit so money will not immediately be taken from the account.
  • Check for signs of tampering, like loose buttons, a crooked card scanner or broken security seal.

Here are some tips from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on how to protect your account information:

  • Do not use an ATM or a credit or debit card reader if anything looks suspicious, such as loose or extra parts. Alert the machine owner or police immediately.
  • Go elsewhere if you see a sign directing you to only one of multiple ATMs in a location. It could be the machine that was tampered with by a crook.
  • Cover the keypad when typing your PIN number.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for unauthorized transactions, even small transactions.

Users should "wiggle the card reader" and check for signs of tampering, McAllen, Texas, police spokesman John Saenz told television station KGBT after the skimming devices were found there and across the Rio Grande Valley earlier this summer.

"Any signs that a panel at the gas station had been pried open or if a security strip has been removed or tampered with, do not use that terminal," he said, adding that motorists may also be able to minimize their risk by choosing a pump that's close to the store entrance.

The Federal Trade Commission has created a portal for people to report identity theft on its website.


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