State inspectors find growing number of credit card skimmers inside gas pumps
State inspectors have seen an uptick in the number of credit card skimmers found inside gas pumps this year, particularly in Johnston County, but there’s not much drivers can do about it.
That’s because thieves install the devices where people can’t see them, leaving no way for drivers to tell whether their credit or debit card information is being collected for nefarious purposes.
“As an average customer, with the skimmers placed on the inside of the pump, there’s no way of knowing that there’s a skimming device there,” said Chad Parker, who manages the state Department of Agriculture’s measurement section. ”So you’re really not in a good place.”
The agriculture department inspects about 200,000 gas pumps in the state each year, Parker said, making sure that when a customer buys $20 worth of gas they get it. While inspectors are inside looking at seals and valves, they also check the credit card reader to look for something out of place.
Last year, inspectors found 37 devices inside North Carolina gas pumps that capture data from credit or debit cards. Thieves can later retrieve the devices to download the information, or in some cases have it transmitted automatically to their phones or computers, Parker said.
This year, inspectors have already found 23 skimmers in the first three months, including 15 in Johnston County, where seven were found at one station in Selma, just off Interstate 95. Five of those skimmers were found on March 6, said agriculture department spokesman Joseph Pitchford, and when inspectors went back two weeks later someone had placed two more inside the pumps.
Skimmers have also been found this year in Mecklenburg, Davidson and Polk counties, Pitchford said.
Parker said the agriculture department calls the local police or sheriff’s office when it finds a skimmer, and that the devices are eventually sent to the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates skimming crimes nationwide. Parker said he wasn’t aware of any arrests connected to the skimmers found this year. In a news release last fall, the Secret Service acknowledged that these kinds of thieves are hard to catch.
“Because today’s gas pumps are typically unattended, developing suspects and making arrests in skimming cases is difficult — but not impossible,” the release said.
Parker says the best way to prevent crooks from installing the devices is for pump owners to re-key the locks on their pumps, which tend to have standard locks that can be accessed by a single key. He said once a pump door is open, it doesn’t take long for someone to plug in a skimmer.
“If he’s good at it? Thirty seconds,” Parker said.
As for customers, they should let the station manager know if they see a pump door ajar or otherwise tampered with, Parker said. They should also keep an eye on their credit card and bank statements for signs of any unauthorized purchases.
And Parker says that he always makes his gas purchases with credit, rather than a debit card, because the pump asks for his ZIP code rather than the PIN for his bank accounts.
“It’s obviously better to lose your ZIP code to a crook than your PIN number,” he said.