Credit card criminals get savvy
689 gas stations have reported credit card skimmers at the pumps
More credit card skimmers have been found on Florida gasoline pumps so far in 2018 than all of last year.
The Florida Department of Agriculture says it has found the theft devices at 689 stations, as station owners and law enforcement struggle to keep up with evolving technology and methods from the criminals who deploy them.
“The people doing this are quite sophisticated and quite motivated,” said Patrick Traynor, a University of Florida professor who
studies the devices. “It’s hard to think of what consumers can do other than watching their [credit card] statements.”
In Central Florida, inspectors have found skimmers at 31 gas stations in Orange, Seminole and Lake counties so far in 2018.
It would have been impossible for consumers to detect hundreds of the skimmers found by state investigators because the devices were inserted inside pumps. The newest skimmers use remote technology that can send stolen credit or debit card numbers anywhere. The numbers are used to create counterfeit cards that criminals then load up with charges.
Even gas pumps with high-security locks designed to stop skimmers were infiltrated.
To avoid getting scammed, check your credit and debit card balances frequently. If you see bogus charges, call the card issuer immediately and tell them to remove the charges, cancel the card and issue a new one. You are not responsible to pay for the bogus charges.
Traynor, who trains polices departments and is trying to develop his own antiskimming technology, said criminal rings scout gas stations to find weak points in security camera networks and the best times of day to install skimmers.
Credit card skimmers have been on the rise for years, but the number found in Florida spiked in 2017 as criminals started using the internal skimmers. That, paired with Bluetooth technology to transmit data, has made it safer to retrieve pilfered card numbers and pin codes. Early versions of skimmers had to be installed in card slots.
Some phone apps have been developed to try to detect malicious Bluetooth signals at the pump, but Traynor said those are hit or miss.
And the newest skimming devices use cellular signals and send data via text message across the country.
“They never even have to come back to the gas station,” Traynor said.
In June, Department of Agriculture agents arrested three Kissimmee men on 23 counts each of possessing and installing skimmer devices as well as credit card forgery. Officials said they found more than 50 counterfeit credit cards.
The men were charged with stealing credit card information and using the cards to buy large quantities of gas to be sold on the black market, according to the Agriculture Department.
The three men, Yoel Torres, 47, Vagda Menendez Hernandez, 46, and Ozvel Aquino Lopez, 48, are out on bond. Their trials are pending.
South Florida continues to be the epicenter of credit card skimming in Florida. Broward County accounted for more than a third of the cases, and Palm Beach and Miami-Dade were both among the top counties for skimmers found as well.
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in the Tampa area combined for 70 stations with skimmers found by state inspectors.
Gas stations owners are trying to fight back, said James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.
“The state is doing everything they can; store owners are doing everything they can,” Miller said. “We tell them they should check their machines at least three times a day, and many are doing that. But it still happens.”
Skimmers can strike at any station, but Miller said independent owners, in particular, are overwhelmed by the problem. Often there is only one employee at a time working, checking out customers, retrieving lotto tickets and cigarettes and trying to monitor gas pumps.
Traynor has started a company called Skim Reaper that is developing a credit card-like device to detect if magnetic strips are swiped twice when inserted in a machine.
But Traynor, who works with groups such as the New York Police Department and the state Department of Agriculture to stop skimming technology, said criminals and the technology they use move swiftly.
“These people are smart,” he said. “As soon as you find one way to stop them, something new pops up.”
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A credit card skimmer found at an Orlando gas station in 2017. This skimmer was placed inside the machine and collected data as it was sent from the machine's credit card reader to the computer.