When a skimming device - a small piece of electronics that reads and stores information from credit cards' magnetic strips - was discovered at a gas pump at a station in Gainesville, Florida, earlier this week, authorities warned that consumers should keep an eye on their credit card statements for any unusual activity. Now, even more consumers will have to heed that advice.
In what could be evidence of a region-wide crime wave, two more skimming devices were found at gas stations in the Gainesville area. According to the Gainesville Sun, the discovery of the first device, which could have stolen the identities of every customer who used the pump in which it was discovered over the Fourth of July holiday, prompted officials to search nearby gas stations for more of the illegal equipment. They found two of them in separate pumps at a neighboring station, and made another unsettling discovery as well.
"The worst part of the whole story is that these new devices are equipped with Bluetooth," Lt. Steve Maynard, a spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, told the paper. "We thought they'd have to come back and retrieve it. With Bluetooth, they can come back with a cell phone or a laptop and retrieve all that credit card information" without removing the device.
The paper said that authorities believe someone with a universal gas pump key is opening these machines and installing the small pieces of electronics. These devices would only be detectable from the inside, not to a customer using the pump normally. Maynard said that the skimming devices were part of a larger criminal enterprise that is running throughout the Southeastern U.S., which uses the information stolen from the cards to create fake debit or credit cards and run up charges on victims' accounts. In this particular instance, the thieves are buying merchandise in the Miami area.
The paper said these devices cost very little to make because they consist of just the skimming device - which costs as little as $50 online - a small hard drive and a Bluetooth attachment, but would take some amount of computer knowledge to put it all together.
Any consumer concerned that they could fall victim to a scam like this can avoid the danger by simply paying for their gas with cash, which eliminates the threat that their credit card information could be stolen.