Fire department's gas card information stolen by skimmer

By Leigh Frillici - Reporter

CYPRESS, Texas - The Cy Fair Volunteer Fire Department is asking for the community’s help to whoever is responsible for taking a Cy Fair Volunteer Fire Department’s fuel card number to illegally purchase diesel fuel.

The Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office was brought in to investigate at least two incidents at two different pumps where it’s believed the Volunteer Fire Department’s Fuelman card numbers were stolen as first responders were filling up their vehicles.

It’s believed that the card numbers were taken through a skimming device.

Thieves can attach skimmers inside the pump or behind the key pad in less than a minute, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture, which investigates cases that involve problems at the pump. The skimmer records your credit card number without you realizing it.

“These hold the data for the criminals that either come back to retrieve the device, or now with Bluetooth technology they can just get about 30 feet within the device and download the data from there,” Philip Wright said.

Surveillance photos from the Shell gas station captured what happened after the volunteer department's stolen fuel card number.

A white panel van pulls up to a Shell pump along the East Sam Houston Parkway last Thursday at about 6 p.m.

The person used the stolen Fuelman card number to purchase diesel fuel and then leaves.

“Once that data is captured, then criminals will either sell it as a bulk lot to other criminals or they'll take them down and mass produce reproduced cards,” said Wright. “The criminals themselves that actually placed the device in the unit may be making false cards with that as well and going to other locations and use the cards.”

While this case is still being investigated, the Cy Fair Volunteer Fire Department told KPRC that the department's gas card numbers were stolen in at least two different locations. They're avoiding certain gas stations for now because of the problem.

As it turns out, skimming is one of the biggest issues facing consumers in Texas today, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

“One incident can affect hundreds and hundreds of consumers,” Wright said. “I think it's a growing problem because of accessibility and the low probability of getting caught for the criminals. As the Secret Service told us and banks have told us, criminals who once broke into houses and risked getting caught, they are minimizing their risk by doing this.”

Here are some tips to avoid being a victim of skimming:

  • Make sure you use a pump that is visible to the gas station attendant.
  • If the credit card slot is loose or comes off, don’t use the pump. There’s a good chance that it is a skimmer. Tell the attendant.
  • Look for tampering around the door and the lock of the dispensing device. If it looks like it's been pried loose or if it's been tampered with in any way don’t use the pump.

If you suspect there’s a skimmer, pull out your cell phone, use your Bluetooth and look for devices nearby. If a device with a long string of numbers is trying to connect to your phone, there’s probably a skimmer close by.

To report skimmer problems, you can call 1-800-Tell-TDA.

Crime Stoppers is also offering a reward of up to $5,000 for any information that leads to the filing of felony charges or arrest of the suspect in this case. Tips can be reported by calling (713) 222-TIPS (8477), submitting online at www.crime-stoppers.org, or texting TIP610 plus your tip to CRIMES (274637). HCFMO Case # is 16-173722. All tipsters remain anonymous.

According to the Cy Fair Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page, the van had some recognizable details. It stated, “The driver’s side has dirt around the gas fill inlet and a dirt circle that is unique above it.”

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