Spotting a Skimmer: Staying on guard at the gas station

The gas station is a must-visit location for almost everybody. However, when you swipe your card at the pump your bank account could soon be as empty as your gas tank.

Devices called 'skimmers' have been around for a few years. At first, they were crafted to look like the exterior of gas pumps, or ATMs, and fit over the faceplate where you would swipe your card or enter your personal identification number. Those devices have quickly evolved into a much bigger threat.

"There's no way as a consumer on the outside to be able to see it," said Jenny Wagnon, the Public Information Specialist for the Edmond Police Department. The new skimmers are hidden inside gas pumps and read your card's information as soon as it is swiped, and quietly broadcasts that number to the bad guys. "They can sit to the side and this information."

When Edmond police started getting reports of skimmers they contacted gas stations and convenience stores about how they can work together to combat this growing problem.

"The issue [of skimmers] is unfortunately an industry wide problem and it is something that our team is working on every day, said Laura Aufleger with OnCue.

OnCue is an Oklahoma company that is taking on the issue of skimmers head-on. The company's efforts begin the moment they receive a new gas pump. "We don't use a generic key like 80% of stores in the U.S. do," Aufleger said. OnCue re-keys each of its pumps so only the company has access.

The fact so many gas pumps use the same key is one of the reasons why crook are so successful with skimmers. Once they have a universal key it literally opens hundreds of gas pumps around the Oklahoma City metro area.

However, at OnCue, even if the lock is picked a backup security feature kicks in. "If somebody were to try to tamper with the door we have a silent alarm that would alert employees inside and the pump would automatically be disabled," Aufleger said. OnCue also has pressure sensitive tape over their pumps; that is something other brands of gas stations are using as well.

Tip #1: Check for security tape.

If the tape seal on the pump, usually found near the lock, appears tampered with or the word "void" shows up on it - you need to alert the clerk.

Speaking of the clerk, you may have noticed that the new OnCue locations all have a similar look. That is not just for aesthetics, the design gives clerks a view of all the pumps at the same time. OnCue also deploys dozens of security cameras at every location.

"When you know you're on camera, when things are bright you feel safer and that is the absolute priority for us," Aufleger said.

Tip #2: Pick a pump the clerk can see. Crooks like pumps where no one can see them installing skimmers.

Even though most modern skimmers are installed inside pumps, there is always the chance someone could try to slip something over the card reader. This is where customers can help out.

Tip #3: Feel free to give the card reader a wiggle and make sure nothing moves or doesn't feel right.

If something feels off or you notice anything out of the ordinary make a report to the store clerk.

Tip #4: If something seems off, tell someone.

"The more people that report it the more information we're getting case by case on these things," Wagnon told Fox 25. OnCue said the same thing. They want to know if something doesn't seem right. They have clerks do inspections, but the more eyes that are out there the less the chance someone can slip something in.

Tip #5: Don't use a debit card; use a credit card if possible at the pump.

Police say it is easier to recover losses from a compromised credit card because you're using the banks money and not your own. You could also take the extra step to use cash and prepay at the pump. However, even if your card is compromised, do not just assume there is nothing you can do. Police want to know about it because it allows them to trace when and where the theft is happening. The more reports police have, the better they can search to find the people responsible.

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