SANDY — Investigators are warning about the threat posed by "skimming" — a growing crime where thieves use electronic devices to steal victims' credit and debit card information — after a device was discovered recently inside a gas pump.
The device, which had been in place for the past 60 days, was discovered around the end of January inside a gas pump at a 7-Eleven at 2165 E. 9400 South, according to Sandy Police Sgt. Troy Arnold. It is the second such device found in the city, and one of about 180 found along the Wasatch Front in just the past four months, Arnold said.
"We encourage the public to check their credit card statement if they used the gas pumps at this location during this time to ensure they are not victims to this skimming device," Arnold said.
He added the owners of the 7-Eleven store were not involved in the fraud.
"The company was an innocent victim to the criminals, just as the people who used their pumps were," the sergeant said.
The device was concealed so well that it would not have been detected without help from a trained technician who was working with police. Arnold said it had been constructed to perfectly match the pump's card slot.
The police investigation in Utah began when a California bank's fraud department found a common link between victims: They had all used the same 7-Eleven gas pump. The bank alerted the U.S. Secret Service, which in turn contacted Sandy police.
The device found in Sandy resulted in more than $11,000 in losses at various ATMs in Los Angeles County, Arnold said.
"It's a crime that covers several states," he said. "We're finding that, particularly along the east bench of the valley, (skimming devices are) becoming more prevalent."
Glen Passey, the Secret Service resident agent-in-charge for Utah, said that aside from being conscientious about where they use credit or debit cards, consumers should also spend time reviewing their monthly statements for evidence of fraud.
"They need to immediately get a hold of their bank and let them know if there's an unauthorized charge," Passey said.
Armed with that information, investigators can look for patterns among the victims to narrow down where their information was stolen. In some cases, the culprit is a "collusive employee" at a restaurant or other business who runs the card through a skimmer and then sells the card information to a third party.
In the case of the device found at 7-Eleven, Arnold said, when customers swiped their cards, the device transmitted that information via Bluetooth technology to a Bluetooth-enabled device near the gas pumps, such as a computer left in the back seat of a parked car.
"We have them traditionally selling (the information) to organizations in California that pay for the numbers, and they hit these cards until you shut them off," Passey said.
The number of skimming cases rises and falls as the thieves are caught and sent to prison, according to Passey. But catching the culprits depends on how quickly law enforcement is notified of the fraud and the size of the criminal organization involved.
"They become more and more vulnerable" as the number of people involved in the scam grows, Passey said.
"We're able to track them and arrest them more easily," he said, "and generally over a period of time, you can catch most all of them."
To prevent being victimized, authorities in Sandy are recommending that customers pay for gas at the pump with cash, if possible. If cash is not an option, Arnold said, the best option is to take the extra time to walk inside and pay for the gas there.
"The 10 extra minutes of inconvenience of going into the store to pay could actually mean the world to your credit," he said.
Protect yourself from skimming
Shop with merchants you know and trust.
Shield the keypad when entering your PIN code to ensure that no one can see it.
Carefully examine an ATM or financial card machine before using it. If you see something that seems different or if the keypad is unresponsive, do not use the machine.
If the ATM or financial card machine appears to be malfunctioning, do not enter your PIN code. Also, report your suspicions to the bank/owner of the ATM or the retailer.
Follow only the instructions you see on the ATM screen. If signs or instructions have been posted on an ATM, do not use it.
Be wary of nearby strangers or "good Samaritans" who offer to "help" you if you are having difficulties.
Be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM. You may want to use an ATM inside a banking location or have a friend accompany you when using an ATM after dark.
If an ATM "eats" your card, contact your financial services company immediately.
Check your bank statements regularly, even daily if possible, through online banking. The sooner you spot and report suspicious account activity, the better.
Source: Wells Fargo Bank
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