After hundreds of people across Texas fell victim to a credit card data theft scheme this year, area law enforcement and industry experts are offering some insight into how card skimmers access the stolen credit or debit card information.
Jesus Azanza, director of marketing and business development with the Texas Food and Fuel Association, said there are generally two ways to capture credit card information.
First, internal skimmers “can be placed by breaking into fuel dispenser cabinets either with a crow bar or by tampering with the locks,” he said.
Once the door is opened, a small unit of connectors is attached to the internal components of the existing hardware.
“This type of skimmer can be made for a few dollars with parts purchased from local hardware or computer electronic stores,” Azanza added. “It takes under a minute to break into a dispenser cabinet and install them, close the door and the person is on their way.”
Because they’re inside the gas pump, they can be difficult for the average consumer to detect.
External skimmers can be just as hard to identify, but being observant can help.
“For dispensers that have protruding card readers, criminals often place a replica card reader on top of the card reader,” said Azanza.
A way to check for external skimmers is by checking the top of the card reader, said Lubbock Police Detective Brewer with the forgery unit.
If the card reader moves or appears out of the ordinary, then it’s something that’s more than likely been tampered with, he added.
“If you’re going to use the card at the pump, there will be a red or sometimes a yellow piece of tape,” he said. “If that tape is broken, then you don’t to use that pump. That means it’s been tampered with.”
Along with external skimmers, there are “shimmers” that are sleeves inserted inside card readers- which literally take seconds to install, said Azanza.
“When you slide your card, there is a pocket-type sleeve that is capturing your data,” he added.
United Supermarkets said they take steps to try to stay ahead of scammers using skimmers.
“We have a number of systems in place to make sure, for one, that we don’t have skimmers,” said Angelo Lambis, director of fuel and convenience for United Express Convenience stores. “We have everything from locks on our pumps to seals that we watch - daily inspections, cameras.”
He said the inspections are done throughout the day by certified technicians who work on the pumps.
“Skimmers aren’t a new thing,” said Lambis. “For the last several years, we’ve been on the forefront to make sure that doesn’t happen to our guests. We know the damage it can cost our guests. Our primary response is to make sure we do everything we can to make sure they have a safe transaction at our locations.”
Skimmers also have been installed on some ATMs, and police said there are signs to look.
“If you see the same car at an ATM for 20 minutes, that’s something that you could call law enforcement on,” said Brewer. “That’s not a typical transaction. You’re there for maybe three minutes.”
He said the ATM skimmers are usually on the outside, so if the ATM card reader appears to be unstable, customers should notify the bank immediately.
Some scammers access card information through Bluetooth signals, or in some cases, text message signals that allow for the data to be captured with a device that could be as far as 30 feet away, said Azanza.
“The data is used to make online purchases or to make a physical card with your credit card information,” he said.
Brewer said criminals can made a physical card with someone else’s information by getting a gift card from a store and then criminals use a computer program and equipment to transfer the information onto the card.
“They’re able to possess a lot of credit card information, but (the card) still looks legitimate,” he said.
Because skimmers have access to multiple credit cards and are difficult to track down after the fact, Brewer said getting information from the public is crucial.
He said police want to prevent skimmers as criminals are performing the illegal act.
Lambis said United works with law enforcement to ensure that customers are taken care of at the gas pump.
“We’re ahead of the curve on this stuff,” he added. “As long as you’re aware of your surroundings and looking at the equipment you’re putting your card into, you’re going to eliminate most of your problems.”
Police urge anyone with information about a possible skimming scam to call Crime Line at (806) 775-1000. Callers may remain anonymous.