Fayette County is one of seven Ohio counties where a recent rash of skimming at gas station pumps and ATM machines has been reported, according to the State Highway Patrol.
The Patrol and the Secret Service have been investigating a suspected Cuban crime ring linked to the discovery of credit card skimmers at these gas stations. Skimmers are small devices that can scan and store credit card data from the magnetic stripe.
“There have been reports of gas pump skimming throughout the state,” said John Schuck, the resident agent in charge of the Columbus Secret Service office. “The suspect will open the gas pump and place the skimmer device on the credit card device. The skimmer captures the credit card number with one swipe.”
Skimming occurs most frequently at retail outlets that process credit card payments – particularly bars, restaurants and gas stations.
According to Channel 3 in Cleveland, criminals have become particularly adept at hiding their work. They’re using keys to get inside of the pumps and placing devices, where wiring and a cover plate conceal the skimmer. Older skimming devices were often placed on the outside of the card reader.
Frank Applegate, an investigator with the Ohio Highway Patrol, was quoted in the Dayton Daily News: “There seems to have been a pattern with a group of Cubans that have been hitting the Ohio area as well as Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. They’ve been coming up from Louisville, coming up from Texas, and hitting Ohio pretty hard, as well as surrounding states.”
Along with Fayette County, the other Ohio counties where skimmers have been found are Montgomery, Butler, Hamilton, Union, Washington, Warren and Portage counties.
“The task force that was investigating was made up of federal, state and local law enforcement,” said Schuck. “There is no investigation at this time, but we are putting the word out so that people can be aware.”
In October, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office announced that credit card skimming devices were located and recovered from ATM machines located inside the Travel Centers of America truck stop and Love’s Truck Stop, both located at U.S. 35/Interstate 71 in Fayette County. The devices had been placed directly over the existing card slots, according to Sheriff Vernon Stanforth.
“It’s unknown at this time how long the devices have been in place and whether or not anyone’s personal information has been retrieved or compromised,” said Stanforth. “Investigation is continuing. If you’ve used the ATM at either of those businesses recently, please watch your accounts and report any fraudulent activity to law enforcement and your banking institutions.”
To avoid skimming, CreditCards.com offers the following advice:
– Make sure your card stays in sight, and never let anyone leave your presence with the card if you can help it. “Skimming occurs most at restaurants since the waiter has to walk away with your card,” said John Brewer, assistant district attorney in the major fraud division of Harris County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office. “If you are in a retail store and they say they have to go to another counter to run the card, follow them.” If you are concerned about letting go of your card at restaurants, use cash instead.
– Your credit card is like cash. “You need to be aware that your credit card is very valuable,” Brewer said. “Treat it like a diamond or cash. Would you just give someone cash and let them walk away with it?”
– Monitor credit card receipts and check them carefully against your statements. If you are married, sit down with your spouse to account for all charges, Brewer said. Some thieves take out small amounts in hopes cardholders won’t notice.
– Shred unwanted financial solicitations and put your mail on hold when you leave town. This will not help with skimming, but it can help with other forms of identity theft.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica.