GREENVILLE — Pay-at-the-pump has become a convenience we expect when we pull up to fuel our vehicles on the road, but criminals are using that convenience against unsuspecting motorists.
The holidays come with travel plans, so it’s important to keep in mind the threats that are out there.
Credit card skimmers — devices used to read and copy the information on the magnetic strip of credit and debit cards — have been found in the past month in seven Ohio counties, most recently in Warren County. Skimmers also have been discovered in Montgomery, Butler, Fayette, Hamilton, Union and Washington Counties in the past month.
According to Detective Mark Whittaker, no skimmer devices have been reported in Darke County.
According to an investigator with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, much of the activity is believed to be linked to a Cuban crime ring that has worked its way up from Texas and is currently active in Ohio, as well as Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
Most of the pumps that have been tampered with were older models that can be opened easily with a key that can be purchased online. Newer pumps are harder to unlock.
Stations can use safety measures such as additional locks to keep intruders out, or security tape or stickers to make tampering more apparent to users. Broken seals can be a sign of tampering and should be reported to the station employee on duty.
The Montgomery County Auditor, Karl Keith, recently hosted a “skimmer summit,” which was attended by more than 40 law enforcement and weights and measures officials from the surrounding area. The Ohio Department of Agriculture, Division of Weights and Measures is the agency responsible for inspecting gas pumps. Pumps are certified by county auditors.
“This practice is a form of identity theft,” Keith said in a release. “These devices are used to steal credit card information when consumers use their cards to purchase fuel at the pump.”
The devices may be located inside the credit card reader or fit into place over the credit card slot. The internal devices are often undetectable by customers. Security tape or stickers near the credit card slot can indicate the likelihood that a machine has been inspected and is safe to use.
Experts say the only way to guarantee protection from identity fraud is to pay with cash; however, for those who prefer to pay at the pump, they should use a credit card and not a debit card, since the credit cards have built in protection against fraudulent use but debit cards are linked directly to a bank account. Motorists also are advised to use the pumps located in clear view of the attendant, as they are less likely to have been tampered with.
Use of skimmers is a growing form of identity theft across the country. Just this month, more than 800 victims of credit card skimmers were reported in northern Idaho alone. Five skimmer devices were reported in the metropolitan Phoenix area.