Credit card crim­i­nals get savvy

689 gas sta­tions have re­ported credit card skim­mers at the pumps

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle Arnold

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.”

Got a news tip? karnold@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com or 407-420-5664; Twit­ter, @kyle­larnold or face­book.com/bykylearnold

STATE DEPT. OF AG

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.

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