Swiping a card to pay at the pump? Crooks scam millions from drivers

| 8/8/2008

Consumers already paying high diesel and gas prices reportedly have another adversary at the pump – out-of-sight thieves who skim credit and debit card info directly from truck stop and gas station card readers.

Skimming devices made of a plastic sleeve and wires that capture credit card information are glued inside or outside the pump and can be placed on the pump’s card reader or be connected directly, said Ed Donovan, a spokesman with the U.S. Secret Service.

The thieves are mixing the placement of the devices between gasoline and diesel pumps, he said.

While some identity theft comes through collusion of store employees, oftentimes, consumers can do little besides watch their credit card billing documents, Donovan said.

“People need to pay attention to what they’re doing with their card,” Donovan told Land Line. “Each month, when your statement comes in, you need to scrutinize it, so you can catch these kinds of things earlier.”

The Secret Service is tracking cases from California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Nevada that total between $1 million and $3.5 million of money stolen from victims’ accounts after using skimming devices that are difficult to detect.

In California, USA Today reported, San Jose police reported thieves placed “a skimming device” at an Arco station in May. They later stole $200,000 from 180 victims after leaving the device on the pump for more than a month and then taking it off the pump.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has investigated two devices during the last four months, as well as several more placed inside ATM machines.

Pierce County, WA, sheriff’s officials said thieves put a skimming device at an Arco gas pump in August 2007, leaving the device there until the July Fourth weekend. They then cleaned out “at least 120 victims” bank accounts, the newspaper reported.

Pennsylvania State Police found four skimming devices inside gas pumps at Wawa stations in Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties beginning in April, and a similar device was placed and retrieved at a New Castle, DE, Wawa station.

USA Today said Las Vegas police are trying to prevent further identity theft by asking gas station operators to place sticker seals on pumps that can be checked daily.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer