4 investigates: Skimmer technology evolves; Under-reporting a problem
June 10, 2019 10:28 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Gas pumps have long been an easy target for tech-savvy crooks. They install skimmers to steal credit and debit card information and now those crooks are changing their tactics.
“They’ll have a blue tooth device connected to it so they never have to go back to that gas station pump,” said Sgt. Jeff Barnard who works in the Albuquerque Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit.
He said the department recovers dozens of skimmers each year.
Skimmers are mostly hidden inside gas pumps, often with no visible signs on the outside.
“It feels like the technology is getting easier for people to do and to replicate,” Sgt. Barnard said.
In the last few months, investigators have noticed something different – skimming devices that get placed over the top of pay terminals that can be inside gas stations.
Surveillance video provided by APD shows three skimming suspects inside a gas station near Broadway and Lomas in April. The video shows two of the suspects walk up to a pay terminal at the checkout counter with no clerk in sight. Police eventually recovered a skimming device that snaps into place over the point of sale terminal.
While investigators have a few leads as to who the suspects in the April incident are, the three suspects remain on the loose.
“A lot of them are organized groups and what makes it even more difficult is that a lot of them are traveling,” Sgt. Barnard said.
In New Mexico, gas pumps are the more popular targets for skimmers – especially along major thoroughfares in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
While there is no single state agency that tracks all skimmer crime, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture encounters skimming devices during their routine inspections of gas pumps.
Division Director David Turning says the agency found 10 skimmers throughout the state in 2018. The department currently has nine inspectors for the entire state – in charge of checking nearly 10,000 gas pumps.
“A lot of these do get found by local businesses or repair companies and they just remove them and don’t report them to anybody,” Turning said.
While state inspectors typically report skimmers to local police – that’s not always the case because there is no policy or law that requires it.
For example, Honstein Oil in Santa Fe discovered four gas pumps skimmers in August 2018. The company never reported the evidence to local police and neither did the state Department of Agriculture.
“At times, we leave that up to the business,” said Turning, adding later: “In this case, I’m pretty sure the business didn’t want it to go into the newspaper. They did a good job finding something but when you report it, the consumer doesn’t look at it that way.”
At this point, it is unclear if the department has any plans for a change in policy in the works.
The 4 Investigates team reached out to Honstein Oil for comment but did not receive a response.
With the law the way it is, investigators across the state say cracking skimming cases is tough work and getting tougher.
APD’s solve rate hovers below 50 percent for skimming crime, thanks in part to under-reporting and delayed reporting of skimmers, cheaper technology and criminals who are constantly on the move.
“Unfortunately, it seems like it’s getting easier and easier to do,” Sgt. Barnard said.
The state Department of Agriculture is experimenting with new smartphone apps that could help detect skimmers.
TIPS FROM THE NEW MEXICO DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE
As a consumer, the following steps may help protect yourself from being a victim of skimming at the fuel pump:
• Pull on the credit card reader to ensure it is permanent
• Check for audit tape to ensure no one has tampered with the dispenser
• Choose a fuel pump that’s in the cashier’s sight
• Go inside and pay with cash
If you discover a credit card skimmer at the pump, report it to authorities as well as to the store manager. To report identify theft, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 or visit www.identitytheft.gov.
New Mexico fuel retailers are asked to contact NMDA SCS staff at 575-646-1616 as soon as possible after a skimmer is found. SCS also provides information to retailers and repair establishments regarding steps to take if a skimmer is discovered.
Updated: June 10, 2019 10:28 PM
Created: June 10, 2019 06:55 PM
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