• 9 Investigates: How thieves target gas pumps and how to protect yourself


    ORLANDO, Fla. - It's no secret identity theft and fraud have become big problems, but state investigators say gas pumps are the biggest

    target for criminals using skimmers to steal your credit card information.

    The devices are found across Florida practically every day, so paying at the pump could mean paying a price.

    Mike Rausch found out the hard way when his debit card was skimmed.

    “It shut my bank account down for two months,” he said.

    Investigator Andrew Cobb, with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the problem is growing.

    "It's more and more organized as it grows. It's a large criminal organization,” Cobb said.

    And gas pumps are the easiest targets.

    The agency found 103 skimmers on pumps in a three-month statewide sweep last year.

    "They're trying to make them harder to detect by the naked eye," said Cobb.

    The skimmers are often hidden inside the pumps.

    When a customer swipes his or her card, credit card information is either stored or immediately uploaded to a remote site.

    And those installing the skimmers have no problem getting into the pumps—many use gas-pump keys, which can be found online. With the owners' permission, Channel 9’s Jeff Deal tested the keys at several gas stations.

    The keys fit, but didn’t open the pump.

    Many gas station owners said they recently changed locks because of problems with generic keys.

    But some pumps are easy to open using basic tools from a hardware store.

    Some gas station owners said they are now taking extra precautions, checking the pumps daily.

    One way to check if a pump has been tempered with is by looking at the security stickers outside of the pump.

    If the sticker looks ripped at the bottom, it may have been tampered with.

    “Be vigilant. I mean, that’s what it is. You’ve got to inspect them,” said gas station owner Akbar Parpia.

    He said eventually, the pumps will use the new chip readers made for the hard-to-duplicate cards.

    But for now, as long as people are still swiping, the criminals seem intent on skimming.

    "They will either manufacture credit cards with your account information on them or will sell your personal identity to other criminal organizations,” said Cobb.

    Investigators said paying cash is the best way to protect yourself.

    The store owners said upgrading to the chip technology is expensive.

    One said he's replacing his pumps later this year.

    Each one will cost around $17,000.

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