Consumers should be on alert for credit card skimmers at gas pumps in Inyo and Mono Counties.
According to a news release on the Inyo County Sheriff Facebook, ten skimmers were found in the past few weeks. Five of those were extracted at Coso Junction.
According to Inyo/Mono Counties Director of Weights and Measures, Nathan Reade, and the Mono County Sheriff, Ingrid Braun, another skimmer was found in the past week at the Chevron station in Lee Vining.
“I had staff check in Mammoth Lakes and some surrounding stations last Thursday, but nothing was found,” Reade said.
Reade went on to say that, “From what I’ve seen, the presence of cameras seems to be a big factor in preventing the placement of skimmers. Most of the stations where we have found them do not have cameras. My recent interactions with station owners indicate they are really taking this seriously and I have seen really good proactive measures being employed. Hopefully the individuals placing these skimmers will move on to other areas.”
Thirty-seven million Americans refuel every day and 29 million of them pay for fuel with a credit or debit card. Gas stations are increasingly being targeted for skimming as technology in ATMs has made it much more difficult to “skim” card information.
A credit card skimmer is a small device that lets a thief collect the information off the magnetic stripe of a credit card and surreptitiously record the information on it. The information is then transferred onto a fake credit card and used to make purchases, or the information is sold to crooks that use the information to make purchases, often online. According to experts, a stolen card’s information is worth anywhere from $5 up to $30 each on the black market or dark web. The information might be used right away or several months later.
Experts often have difficulty spotting them, which is why a public meeting was held in Independence, California on Tuesday evening, March 11, for community members, business owners/managers and operators at local gas stations. The next day, a training was held for Inyo Sheriff deputies and other law enforcement agencies.
Matt Alexander and Jaime Quiroz, Special Investigators with the Petroleum Enforcement Program for the CA Division of Measurement Standards spoke at the meeting.
The hope is that public awareness can be brought to the issue of credit card skimmers found at pay-at-the-pump gas stations in the county by enlisting the help of the public and local law enforcement. Alexander called the problem “The Silent Thief”.
“Skimmers are very cheap to make or buy,” Alexander Said, “And so cheap that the thieves don’t even bother to retrieve them. Some of the newer skimmers are almost impossible to see, even if you know what you’re looking for.” Even he has been “fooled occasionally in the past.”
In many cases, it only takes 7 or 8 seconds to install a skimmer. Bluetooth-enabled gas pump skimmers are connected inside the pump cabinet directly to the pump’s power supply. A “universal gas pump key” can be easily purchased online by anyone to open the fuel dispenser door. Thieves use it to open the door to install the skimmer that will let them retrieve stolen card and PIN data wirelessly. A thief can just drive up to the pump or within range of the Bluetooth signal (which can be as much as 100 yards away from the device) to retrieve the stolen data wirelessly by opening a laptop. The crime is called bluesnarfing or blue skimming.
When skimming occurs at a gas station, it usually takes place at only one pump, but that single compromised pump can capture data from 30 to 100 cards per day.
According to Alexander, sometimes, by using our eyes, fingers and now even your smartphone might help you spot card skimmers at gas pumps and ATMs, but he emphasized that “nothing is foolproof.” Here are some tips suggested by Alexander on “How to Spot a Card Skimmer”:
1.Look to see if the gas pump panel is closed. Look for signs of of tampering. Many stations now put serial numbered security tape over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel has been opened, the label will read ‘void.’
2. Check for any loose, crooked or damaged parts. Jiggle the card reader to see if it’s loose. Crooks might have placed a card reader on top of the existing one. Look inside the throat of the card reader.
3. There are apps now that can alert you to possible skimmers that look for a device while in Bluetooth mode with title HC-05 or HC-06.
Newer credit cards use EMV chips. They use encryption and are less subject to being skimmed, but thieves are starting to look at ways around that as well. Gas pumps in the U.S. were given a three-year extension on EMV transition in 2017, which means that fuel pumps will continue to be a fertile field for skimmer thieves until October 2020. The delay was granted because of the expensive cost ($60,000) to replace a gas pump with the new EMV credit card technology.