CHEMUNG COUNTY, N.Y. (WENY) -- Gas pump skimmers have been victimizing unsuspecting consumers for years now, but criminals keep changing their tactics. Most times, victims don't even know that a skimmer is stealing their financial information because the skimmer is completely hidden.
For tech savvy criminals, a skimmer is cheap and easy to install. "You can install a credit card skimmer in 5 to 10 seconds," said Clifford Boyce, the Director of Weights and Measures for Chemung, Schuyler, and Yates Counties.
Across the country, gas pumps are being infiltrated with skimmers in a cat and mouse game. But this isn't just big city crime we're talking about. "They have been found in Chemung, they have found in Steuben, they have been found in Tompkins," said Boyce.
Gas pump skimmers come in many shapes and sizes, but they can usually be classified into several categories. Some skimmers require the criminal to physically come back and retrieve it. Those skimmers are also attached to the outside of a gas pump.
Bluetooth skimmers allow the criminal to be a short distance away, allowing the stolen financial information to be sent from the gas pump to a criminal's laptop or phone. These skimmers are typically placed inside of a gas pump, hooked up to internal computer components and completely hidden away from the consumer.
Within the past 18 months, a new type of skimmer was spotted in the Twin Tiers. In Horseheads, police recovered a GSM/cellular powered skimmer from inside of a gas pump. The installation method is the same compared to Bluetooth gas pump skimmers. This new GSM/cellular powered skimmer allows stolen financial information to be sent via text message, allowing the criminal to be away from the scene of the crime. Theoretically, this also allows stolen card numbers to be sent anywhere in the world that has cell phone service.
Police would not specifically disclose the exact location where the skimmer was found.
"With cellular capabilities, instead of these skimmers kind of sitting there and storing up to 7,000 numbers and requiring a perpetrator to come back and kind of be in the premise of where the crime has been committed, now that skimmer is just text messaging text messaging the credit card numbers in perpetuity," explained Special Agent Marc Smith, with the FBI Albany, N.Y. Division.
For all types of skimmers, once a criminal gets your credit or debit card numbers, they usually try to purchase gift cards or other financial instruments.
According to U.S. Postal Inspector Joseph Kelly, "We were noticing that the stolen card information that was being pulled from skimming devices was being used to purchase U.S. postal money orders which are purchased at postal facilities and they can be purchased up to $1,000, and that's primarily where those cards were being used."
In the fight against this crime, which can cost victims and financial institution between $1,000 and $5,000 per incident, detection of a skimmer is very important. Special Agent Smith says they work closely with people who know have in-depth knowledge of gas pumps.
Michael Sikula, the Director of Weights & Measures for New York State, explained, "Looking for skimmers is not something that Weights and Measures is mandated to do, Weights and Measures officials have a lot of technical knowledge of gas pumps and it is something we wanted to do as a public service and to make sure law enforcement was aware of it." He added, "It was a good fit for us and it was something we could help with and something we wanted to do."
Boyce also shared some tips for people filling up at the pump. "Take a look at the door area where the credit card unit is, look for the security tape, look to see been if there has been any tampering in that area to see if perhaps a credit card skimmer was installed," he explained, "If something does not feel right, if you don't feel comfortable running your credit card in the dispenser outside, then I would recommend either paying by cash inside or take your credit card inside as opposed to at the pump."
You can't always prevent a skimming incident, but officials agree people should keep up to date on their financial statements. You should look for any suspicious activity, and talk to your financial institution if anything out of the ordinary is spotted. This would help limit the damage of a credit/debit card skimming incident.