Card swipers must pay attention — Brookhaven police caution fuel buyers to be wary at the pump

Published 9:07 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Brookhaven police are urging citizens to play it safe at fuel pumps after discovering a pair of credit card scamming devices at a local gas station.

Brookhaven Police Department Capt. Clint Earls said the “skimmers” were found wired inside the credit card readers at two gas pumps at an undisclosed station Monday after scammed citizens filed police reports as part of standard fraud reporting with their banks. Police were able to trace the citizens’ fraudulent transactions back the gas station and discovered the devices upon checking the pumps.

“We don’t have any leads on who placed the skimmers at this time. It’s an ongoing investigation and we will submit these to the crime lab and the attorney general’s office to see if they can retrieve any data,” Earls said.

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Earls said the station had security cameras, but not enough to cover every pump. He said a review of the security tape would likely be unhelpful anyway, since the scamming devices could have been installed months ago and activated only recently.

Earls said criminals target gas stations that close for business but leave their pumps activated throughout the night. They will pull into a pump and pretend to be pumping gas while they break into the credit card readers with lock picks or copied keys.

The credit card readers shown in the BPD video use IDE cables, an older technology once widely used to connect hard drives in computers. The skimmers are wired into the ribbon cables and download credit card data that passes through the system.

Some of the skimmers require the installing criminal to return and manually retrieve stored data, but Earls said newer models can broadcast short-range WiFi or Bluetooth signals. In that case, a criminal could simply drive by slowly and download the data to a laptop without actually stopping at the station.

Some criminals purchase the skimmers, but tech-savvy lawbreakers can construct their own out of used computer parts, Earls said.

“We’ve seen these devices around for a while, they’re just getting more and more fanned out,” he said. “It’s easy for someone to slip up to a gas station that’s closed and act as if they’re getting gas, and actually they’re tampering with the pumps.”

Earls declined to disclose the location of the targeted gas station, but an instructional video posted to the BPD Facebook was clearly filmed from the Exxon at the intersection of Hwy. 51 and Hwy. 84, with a line of ATVs at Road and Track Powersports visible in the background.

“The owners are not aware these devices have been placed on a pump until they are serviced, or checked, or reloaded with paper. It could happen to any pump in Brookhaven,” Earls said. “We’re not the only law enforcement agency that sees these problems. This is a nationwide problem.”

Earls said motorists should protect their bank accounts by using only stations that are well lit and have ample security camera coverage of the gas pumps. He urged people fueling up to forego the convenience of paying at the pump at pay inside — no skimmer has ever been found inside a store, he said.

Finally, people who purchase fuel at pumps should monitor their credit and bank statements often and report suspicious activity to their bank or to the police department, at 601-833-2424.