Fuel fraud: Thieves use pay-at-pump technology to steal millions

| 11/21/2007

Truck drivers and holiday travelers alike swipe their debit cards rather than stand in line to pay inside. The move saves time and often a shivery walk through nippy parking lots this time of year.

But, just how secure are your purchases at the pump?

In recent weeks and months, thieves have used credit card processing technology to steal fuel from gas stations and to take specific account information from thousands of customers.

In suburban Detroit, bandits climbed onto the roofs of at least seven gas stations and disabled satellites that send credit information. The sabotage allowed drivers to fill tanks for hours at a time and steal millions in fuel simply by swiping plastic cards at the pump.

In late October, The Daily Tribune newspaper reported that officials from the U.S. Secret Service’s Detroit office said that multiple credit card scams run by using technology are being investigated in several major metropolitan areas.

Detective John Thull told the Tribune that “suddenly, the station’s gas sales were almost exclusively being transacted with credit cards – there were over 40 vehicles that pulled into the station using credit card transactions in a short period of time. People even showed up filling gas cans, which is rare this time of year.”

Last year, Canadian police arrested 10 people for swapping card readers with their own to wirelessly send PIN numbers and credit card numbers to a remote receiver. The scheme netted $4 million from 18,000 customer’s bank accounts, according to www.retailsolutionsonline.com.

The problem may be more prevalent in gas stations than full-scale truck stops.

A spokeswoman for Natso, an association which represents more than 900 member truck stops and travel plazas, told Land Line that the association has not been notified of similar problems at its pumps.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
charlie_morasch@landlinemag.com