HOUSTON – Thieves using credit card skimmers to steal from unsuspecting customers at gas stations don’t discriminate.
Whether it’s a big city or small town, rural or urban, they’re costing companies millions of dollars each year and giving customers severe headaches.
“It’s messed up, people scamming, skimming, can’t do nothing about it,” one customer told Channel 2 Investigates. “I hate the violation of it, but it’s just the way things are these days.”
How criminals “skim” credit cards
Criminals are replacing the gas company issued credit card readers on pumps with their own devices that capture customers’ card numbers and information.
“They break the lock, it costs money,” said Sharmin Zaman, whose Katy gas station was hit by skimmers five times in the past year. The repair expenses, and the cost of the lost business, came out of the station owner’s pocket. “They take out our card reader and put in their card reader,” said Zaman. “We replace two times, more than $500.”
Cops fighting back
In Katy, police devised a plan to catch the bad guys. It’s a top secret operation and the officer in charge couldn’t even show us his face or tell us the name of the technology they’re using. But he let Channel 2 Investigates know a little bit about how it works.
“So if somebody messes with the pump or accesses the pump’s interior, it’ll send us an alert to the phone,” said the officer.
Just weeks into the pilot program, officers got an alert.
“It was late at night, we had just missed them and everything just sank down in me,” the officer said.
But less than two weeks later, the crooks came back.
“Ten days later, I got another alert,” the officer said, laughing. “What was going through my mind when I got the alert? We’re going to get him."
Police arrested Romualdo Chavez, and a search of his vehicle found a credit card skimmer, a card reader, and re-encoded credit cards and three USB drives. And since the arrest, the Katy gas station has been skimmer-free.
“We are, I’m like, so relaxed after that,” Zaman said.
“Most of the police department lives here in the city of Katy, so when something happens in the city, it happens to us as well,” said the officer. We’d like the citizens to know we’re doing our job.”
What you can do to protect yourself
Authorities say there are things you can do to keep your information safe at the pump:
- Use cash if you can
- If you can’t go inside to pay, try using the gas station’s app
- Look for horizontal card readers with chip readers which are harder to hack