Tuesday, November 14, 2017

WSDA, financial institutions, law enforcement out to put the brakes on skimmers

Jerry Buendel 
Weights and Measures

WSDA has been teaming up with banks and credit unions, law enforcement agencies, and gas station owners to put the brakes on the growing crime of credit and debit card theft through “skimmers.” 

A skimmer is an electronic device, sometimes placed at gas pumps, that can steal your debit and credit card information. Thieves can then sell the information to other criminals to buy gift cards or purchase merchandise for quick resale. Some consumers have even had their accounts emptied when their debit card information was stolen. 

Growing awareness of skimmer fraud
Illegal card skimmer (circled)
During 2016, when I served as chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, the Secret Service and FBI conducted training about skimmers for state officials at our meeting in San Diego.  This past September, skimmer training was again on the agenda, this time at our regional meeting in Arizona. 

I have had a VISA fraud investigator speak to my team at our annual meeting in Olympia. Staff from Seattle’s Weights and Measures attended as well. Our inspectors receive updates on skimmer activities from other states, including Arizona, Michigan and Florida.  The networking is valuable. When we have doubts about what we’ve discovered, we text photos to these other investigators for an immediate second opinion. 

In short, everyone is working on addressing this national problem.

Partnering to combat skimmers
Earlier this year, I began attending a monthly fraud roundtable hosted by the Washington State Employees Credit Union. This informal group of law enforcement officers, state regulatory officials, and bank and credit union investigators exchange information and share tips. 

The group agreed to advise each other when they spot suspicious equipment or potentially fraudulent activity. The sharing goes both ways. 

This past summer, Boeing Employee Credit Union (BECU) let WSDA’s staff know that they tracked fraudulent activity back to a gas station in Moses Lake. We sent inspectors to the location, where they found two skimmers. The inspectors then notified police, who took a report on the d.jiscovery.

Our inspectors regularly check for these devices during their routine gas pump inspections and have discovered additional skimmers in many areas. 

Advice for station owners on skimmers
Fuel station owners and employees can help prevent skimmer theft by following these tips:

  • Install high-quality locks or use tamper-resistant seals on fuel dispensers.
  • Install alarms or automatic shutoff devices that activate when a dispenser is opened.
  • Inspect the fuel pumps frequently – both outside and inside.
  • Upgrade your fuel dispensers to accept chip-enabled debit and credit cards.

Consumers can protect themselves by paying in cash, using a credit card instead of a debit card and reviewing their billing statements to see if there have been any suspect purchases.  Contact your bank or credit union immediately if you find any fraudulent use of your cards.

By working together we can prevent crime and consumers and station owners can be more proactive in protecting themselves. For more information or to report a possible skimmer, contact WSDA’s Weights and Measures in Olympia at wtsmeasures@agr.wa.gov  or at (360) 902-2035.