CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It's a convenience most people take for granted: Swiping your card at the gas pump to pay.
But this act has become a convenience for criminals with credit card skimmers.
Police are alerting people who use credit cards at local gas stations to be aware of these skimming devices.
It is a risk we take every time we fill up our gas tank. Skimmers, hidden in gas pumps, can steal your bank information in seconds, and it happens more often than people think here in South Texas.
“We have major organized criminal groups coming from, mainly, Houston," said CCPD Det. Ramiro Torres. "They will come and stop at all cities, all towns, all the way down to the Valley, and on the way back, they will pick them up. Right now, we are having problems with a Romanian criminal group. Before that, it was Cuban nationals that were doing this sort of activity,”
Criminals definitely are trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Skimmers have evolved to become so small and sophisticated that they attach in seconds inside a pump. A thief can unlock the pump panel, disconnect the hardware inside, plug in the skimmer, reattach the hardware, and close up the panel and drive off undetected.
“Technology is improving, and crooks are taking advantage of that," Torres said. "A lot of these credit card skimming devices are wireless or Bluetooth. They don’t even have to come back for them. They will install it and get close enough to get the information, credit card numbers, and just leave them in there.”
Criminals sell the stolen data or use it to buy things online. You won’t know your information has been stolen until you get your statement or an overdraft notice.
“Once they download them on a computer, they can sell them on the dark web anywhere from $10 to $15 a credit card number, ” he said.
Residents are asked to be mindful of where they use their debit or credit card, whether it be at the grocery store, gas station, or ATMs.
“Go inside and pay inside with cash, credit card, or buy a gift card from the store and just use that," Torres said. "A lot of people would say choose a gas pump that is closest to the store where they can see. And if you are going to an ATM, maybe try to pick one inside a store. Don’t go to an ATM out in the open."
Anyone whose debit or credit card has been compromised should contact the Corpus Christi Police Department.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid a skimmer when you gas up:
• Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel is opened, the label will read "void."
• Look at the card reader itself. Does it look different than other readers at the station?
• Try to wiggle the card reader before you put in your card. If it moves, report it to the attendant. Then use a different pump.
• If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, the PIN is safe and the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account.
• If you’re really concerned about skimmers, pay inside rather than at the pump.
• Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.
If your credit card has been compromised, report it to your bank or card issuer. Federal law limits your liability if your credit, ATM, or debit card is lost or stolen, but your liability may depend on how quickly you report the loss or theft.
For more information visit: Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards.