BLOOMINGTON – The Minnesota Department of Commerce has launched a statewide sweep to crackdown on people installing credit card skimmers as gas pumps.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Mike Rothman said inspectors with the weights and measures division will conduct the sweep across the state. Commissioner Rothman said so far this week inspectors discovered two skimming devices at pumps in suburban neighborhoods. He would not name the city.
“The Commerce Department is determined to prevent and halt this emerging threat to Minnesota consumers,” said Rothman. “We are taking steps to make sure pumps are secure and customers’ credit and debit card information is safe from criminals.”
The skimmers allow thieves to secretly record a customer's credit or debit card information. Commissioner Rothman said there are 52,000 pumps across the state. Annually, a team of 12 is responsible for inspecting the pumps. He said in January members with the weights and measures division received additional training from the FBI on ways to spot the devices.
“There are so many pumps in the state of Minnesota that we don’t have enough to keep an eye on them,” he said.
And because there are so many pumps across the state, the Department of Commerce is starting an outreach and education campaign with gas station operators to help protect their customers. For example, technology at Bobby and Steve's Auto World in Bloomington led to the arrests of a group of men from Kentucky trying to install credit card skimmers.
In January, Kip Studaker, the operations leader at Bobby and Steve’s, said the men tried installing the devices on one of their pumps. Surveillance video Studaker shared with KARE 11 shows one of the men washing windows of the vehicle while the other man attempts to unlock the box contacting the credit card machine.
“It was daylight. They were bold,” Studaker said. “The thing that struck me was they didn’t have a license plate. I took still images from the surveillance video and told the staff to look out for them.”
Studaker says the men returned during the overnight hours, two days later. But their attempt to install the device was unsuccessful.
“Soon as they got it open and disconnected our credit card processor to connect theirs, (we received) an audible alert inside and shut down the pump. So nothing else could happen,” he said. “It literally shuts down until it is services by a company.”
That night, a cashier recognized the van and immediately called 911. The police arrived within minutes and arrested the men. Commissioner Rothman said investigators found credit card skimmers in the vehicle and equipment to produce fake credit cards.
Some law enforcement agencies have created red "SkimStop" stickers. They're placed on the pumps- on the credit processing equipment - and employees can check them - to see if the pump has been tampered with.
Consumers can take additional steps to protect themselves:
First, pay inside with cash instead of at the pump. Avoid pumps farthest from the attendant's view. Look before you swipe. Jiggle the card reader and check the keypad. Inspect the pump for any signs of forced entry, including broken security tape, took marks or scratches that may indicate tampering.