Police and gas stations combat growing crime: skimmers inside pumps
Last month the News 4 Trouble Shooters showed you how to protect yourself from skimming devices at bank ATMs. But you're more likely to get ripped off by those devices when you fill up with gas, because crooks hide them inside the pumps.
So far this year police have found skimming devices on 36 gas pumps around San Antonio, compared to just ten hidden on bank ATMs. Skimmers on gas pumps can go undetected for weeks, stealing credit card information from more than 50 customers a day.
We got a rare look at a skimming device SAPD investigators found inside a San Antonio gas pump. It was a more advanced model that doesn’t just copy the information from the magnetic strip on your credit card when you swipe it. A second wire also records your zip code or pin when you punch it into the keypad.
Police photos show how crooks hide the skimmers inside the cabinet of the gas pump, where it looks like just another computer cable. Often the thieves steal the key to the cabinet from the gas station.
Lt. Marcus Booth of SAPD says it takes them less than 30 seconds to install the skimmer, while their partner distracts the gas station attendant.
“They'll key the pump open, either on the front or on the side, they'll reach in, disconnect the card reader itself, insert this device, daisy-chain it into the electronics and they're off and running," Booth demonstrated.
The crooks don't have to go inside the pump again, because the skimmer sends a wireless Bluetooth
“They can just drive up within 20 or 30 feet of the pump, do a little activity on a phone, or on a tablet, or a laptop maybe, and download all the data," Booth says.
Customers were pretty unnerved when we showed them what could be going on inside the gas pump.
“I think that's horrible,” said Gail Hathaway as she filled up at the pump recently. Hathaway said she had no idea the skimmers could be hidden so effectively.
"I have to be vigilant every time I fill up with gas and make sure nothing has been loosened on there," said another customer named Gary Lichtenberg.
Some gas stations are making improvements. Sunoco allowed us to inspect some new pumps near Brooks City Base that no longer have an easy to access cabinet door.
“You can't open the pump itself except for right here which is merely the printer for receipts," observed Lt. Booth.
To get inside the new pumps you'd have to swing open the whole front of the machine, which is hard to do without being seen. And the card reader is capable of scanning the chip on your credit card like they do at the grocery store.
“This is kind of a fancy reader, if you disconnect it will disable itself and if you try to reconnect it, it will not work," said Booth.
As you've probably noticed, gas stations have started placing stickers on the pumps, either over the keyhole or over the edges of the cabinet, so you can tell if a pump's been tampered with.
“If that sticker's been altered, or defaced, or removed, you should notify the store personnel and not use this pump," advised Booth.
These days when you fill up, you've got to pay close attention to more than just the price of the fuel.