Thursday, April 6, 2017

Credit card skimmers on the prowl as you pump your gas

Mike Louisell

Gas prices and a line at the pump aren’t the only concerns for motorists these days. Crooks are at work stealing credit and debit card information as unsuspecting consumers fill their tanks.

Inspectors with WSDA’s Weights and Measures Program, who visit service stations throughout the state regularly, are discovering card skimmers placed inside the gas pumps. These skilled thieves install devices in less than a minute and prefer to target older dispensers located out of the view of store clerks. The thieves return later to steal the credit and debit card information.

“The newer skimmers are capable of sending the stolen information
to a smart phone using Bluetooth technology,” program manager Jerry
Skimmer device (circled) captures credit/debit card data
Buendel said. “In those cases, the thieves can park nearby, download the info and return later for another download.”

One victim of this theft was a Puyallup customer who discovered he
had been ripped off when he tried to make a purchase later with the same card and the card was declined. Funds in his account had already been stolen.

WSDA inspectors also have recently discovered skimming devices at gas stations in Olympia, Yakima and the Tri-Cities. Seattle has seen cases as well.

There are more than 11,000 fuel dispensers in Washington. WSDA inspectors check for skimmers during routine inspections and follow up on tips received from fraud investigators at financial institutions. At times, station owners remove skimmers they find and don’t report the problem.

“Our staff has received training on skimmers and we’re working hard with industry and law enforcement to protect the public,” Buendel said.

Consumers can protect themselves

 WSDA offers these tips for consumers to protect themselves:
  • Consider paying cash or using your card inside the business. 
  • If you pay by credit card, check your card activities regularly.
  • Avoid paying by debit card – they don’t offer the same protection as credit cards.
  • Look for tamper-proof seals on the fuel dispenser and make sure they are not broken.
  • If you see something unusual about the door or the device where you swipe your card, don’t use it. Report it to the station attendant, law enforcement or WSDA’s Weights and Measures Program.
  • Choose a pump near the door to the store or nearest the cashier. Higher visibility may keep the crooks away.
  • If you suspect your credit or debit card has been compromised, report it immediately to your bank or credit card company.
Steps station owners can take

WSDA urges service station owners to install higher security locks, use security seals, check their pumps and locks frequently or install equipment that will disable the pump when the access doors are opened.