Oak Hill Gazette

Oak Hill resident gets ripped-off by device planted inside a gas pump

by Ann Fowler

As we head into the shopping frenzy leading up to Christmas, authorities warn shoppers to be wary of credit card skimming at retail stores, restaurants and especially at gas stations.

Thieves have been adding devices to ATMs and gas pumps to “skim” the data from credit card magnetic strips to create and use counterfeit cards. Miniature cameras can also be used to view the keypad information.

As credit card fraud has spiraled out of control, banks are fighting back by making “smart” credit cards with data stored on integrated circuits rather than magnetic strips. These EMV cards (which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) are designed to make purchases more secure. (Many of these new cards also have the magnetic strips to make them backward compatible.)

A chip card is inserted at the front of a terminal; customers need to wait a few seconds before removing the card.

A “liability shift” occurred on October 1 that requires most businesses to have the new EMV readers. Businesses without these new readers—often smaller businesses —will be liable for any fraud that occurs, despite a customer’s use of the new chip card. Before October 1 that liability belonged to the card issuer.

An exception currently exists for gas stations, which have until 2017 to switch to the new technology, because their upgrades are more complicated. The cost of fuel-related fraud is not insignificant—in 2013, gas stations lost $250 million while card issuers lost $500 million.

According to the 2015 NACS Consumer Fuels Survey, 78 percent of consumers pay at the pump—which translates to as many as 30 million transactions every day. That provides a lot of opportunities for thieves.

Oak Hill resident Deb Erlanson was one of those victims. She said a recent letter from Valero, advising her that she was nearing her limit, alerted her to the fraud. Her son Jake’s card had been used in California—even though neither he nor his gas card ever left central Texas.

Skimmers used on ATM machines are put over the card and keypad mechanisms. While these devices can be used at gas pumps, the skimmer of choice at gas stations is often one that is put inside the pump itself—out of view of the consumer.

Erlanson lives outside the city limits, so law enforcement from Travis County was involved. She said, “The Sheriff said the special theft machine stays put for an entire day to collect hundreds (maybe more) of people’s credit cards in that machine, then they go somewhere else and start using the people’s credit data until it maxes out. The Sheriff said it’s possible Jake’s card data was stolen way back at the beginning of the year for all we know, and the thieves were just now getting to it.”

It took Erlanson about a month to get her account straightened out. She filed an affidavit with Valero and spoke with law enforcement in California and Texas. Ultimately Valero credited her account for the fraudulent charges made in California.

Erlanson said, “It’s unfortunate the innocent and unsuspecting cardholder ends up bearing the burden of fixing a theft problem.” She advises people in this predicament to be patient and take notes as you talk to each person.

Police officials told Erlanson the only way to avoid credit card skimming is to pay cash. But that may not be practical for those who don’t have the time to go inside the gas station and stand in line to pay for gas.

Erlanson said her family is more cautious now when they pay at the pump. She said, “We look at the card slider now; I even hold it and push side to side to see if anything moves. The deputy sheriff said it is hard to detect thieves’ skimmer equipment as it has gotten more sophisticated.”

Some tips to avoid being skimmed at a gas station include:

Look for anti-tamper stickers on the edges of the gas pump mechanism. Many stations use them now to alert employees if a gas pump has been opened. If the seal says ‘void,’ someone has tampered with it.


JPMorgan Chase has tips for holiday shopping security

Rebecca Acevedo of JPMorgan Chase Bank told the Gazette the holiday season is a particularly vulnerable time for consumers in terms of credit card fraud. She offers these tips to consumers:


“By working hand-in-hand with your bank or credit card company, you can reduce the chance of being victimized during the holiday shopping frenzy—and less impacted should a breach occur,” said Pam Codispoti, president of Chase Consumer Branded Cards. “Using the right technologies and techniques can keep your cards—and your reputation—‘secure.”


Codispoti offers some tips, whether shopping in-store or online.