by Robert DeRubeis, Program Manager Weights and Measures, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
Buying gas is a routine necessity for Michigan drivers with more and more consumers paying for their gas directly at the pump using a credit or debit card. Unfortunately, criminals have developed new technology to steal your personal banking information when paying at the pump. This techno-crime victimizes both the customer and the gas station.
The typical gas dispenser has a common access key allowing criminals to quickly and easily access the interior dispenser and hide a skimming device. Generally referred to as “skimmers,” these small electronic devices, are embedded into the electronic credit card reader system (like the one on the front of the gas dispenser) capturing the credit/debit card information. The information can be retrieved manually by the criminals or some of the newer devices appear to have Bluetooth capabilities. How do you know if there is a skimmer in the dispenser you are using? You don’t.
To date, nearly 40 skimmers have been removed from gas pumps across the state by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Weights and Measures inspectors, local law enforcement, service companies and station operators.
The only way to identify if a dispenser has been tampered with or modified is to physically inspect the interior cabinet area.
What are stations doing to protect consumers?
Skimmers tend to be on the outside pumps or those obscured from the eyes of the operator or attendant. So, many stations are being extra vigilant about checking those pumps and frequently inspecting all of their pumps looking for skimmers.
Some stations have a high tech alarm system to shut the pump down if it is tampered with and some have changed the physical locks or are using tamper proof seals on the outside to alert consumers and operators to an unauthorized entry. The most effective methods to date appear to be the alarm systems and changing the locks.
Though it seems impossible to open a pump and install a skimmer, our experience has shown these thieves need less than 30 seconds and aren’t afraid to do it in broad daylight. Reporting unusual activity to the gas station is an important step for consumers as is communication between station operators, service agents and MDARD’s Weights and Measures inspectors.
Weights and Measures staff inspect thousands of gasoline stations annually, and our search for skimming or filtering devices has become a daily routine. But we can’t do it alone. Through continued partnership with Michigan’s gas station owners, we can minimize the potential for consumers to get skimmed.
What should consumers do to protect themselves?
Since credit card skimmers can’t be seen from the outside, there are a few simple steps consumers can follow to help protect themselves.
· Use the gas pumps within sight of the attendant.
· Monitor your credit and debit card accounts regularly.
· If you see something that doesn’t look right, notify the clerk and pay inside.
· Think your card has been compromised? Call your banking institution immediately.
What should a station do if a skimmer is found? First, do not touch it. Shut the dispenser down and contact MDARD’s Weights and Measures Section at 517-655-8202. If this occurs on the weekend, call the local or State Police and file a report.
To file a consumer complaint regarding skimmers or any other weights and measures related issue, please call the MDARD hotline at 1-800-632-3835. Informational videos are available at www.youtube.com/MIAgriculture. For information on the Weights and Measures program, visit us at www.michigan.gov/wminfo.