Millions Stolen by Gas Station Skimming Operations

The problem has grown as criminals become more adept at using fake card swipe machines to steal credit and debit card data from fuel pumps and ATMs.


SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Skimming has become big business. In 2011, skimming cost banks, retailers and consumers $18 billion, HuffingtonPost reports. Many of those skimming cases happened at gasoline station pumps. Sixty-six percent of identity theft were linked to existing credit card or debit card accounts, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.

“We ask consumers if they've been the victim of fraud and sometimes they don't know how they've become victimized, they just know that they have,” said Nancy Ozawa, marketing manager for Javelin.

Rings of skimmer groups target ATMs and fuel pumps. “I'd say where it really started heating up was probably two years or so ago,” said Chris Butler, resident agent in charge at the U.S. Secret Service Riverside, California, field office. The office has a task force to tackle skimming.

Recently, the San Bernardino County sheriff's office uncovered card skimmers at gas pumps in Rancho Cucamonga, California. According to Butler, international crime organizations with headquarters in the Middle East and eastern Europe use skimming in the United States.

Both banks and gasoline retailers are cooperating with authorities to stop skimming. Things like tamper seals and other security measures crack down on skimming. “Shell was the first major oil company to bring tamper-evident labels to the market at the pump,” said spokeswoman Kayla Macke. “The number of sites where skimmers were found at Shell-branded stations fell in 2011 after we implemented this counterfeit skimming initiative.”

It’s important to note that fuel pumps are NOT the largest source of stolen cards. In fact, Visa doesn’t even list convenience stores in its list of problem retail sites. That said, the magnetic stripe without authentication (e.g. credit cards and signature debit cards) “standard” of today’s card payment system is easy pickings for thieves.

The reality is that more cards are stolen from large data centers than retail locations through hacking, which is low-risk and high reward and attracts the most sophisticated thieves because many of these compromised cards can be used without PIN or other forms of authentication. Skimmer gangs are local operatives – usually tied to international crime groups – that often work along interstate corridors. Usually, where one skimmer is found, many are present. This is why Shell and other major retail brands have implemented programs aimed at reducing the attractiveness of fuel dispensers, including asset intrusion stickers and daily inspection.

PCATS – the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s standards group – and NACS have created the skimming database resource that allow retailers to report skimmers as an early warning system. Members of this group are most major retail brands in the industry dedicated to reducing skimming at fuel dispensers.

“Our industry is working hard to reduce the attractiveness of fuel dispensers as a skimming target. The PCATS Data Security Committee has created guides and products under the NACS We Care program that if followed, will greatly reduce the opportunity for thieves to install skimmers,” said Gray Taylor, executive director of PCATS. “The fact is, static data found on the magnetic stripe is outdated – especially when there is no requirement for digital signature, or PIN – and the system is broken. Retailers ultimately carry the cost of these breaches, yet have little say in the design of the system.”

MORE ON WE CARE Protect your business and your customers — watch a NACS video to show you how. You can also order the We Care decals for your stores. NACS also has a fact sheet that examines retailer concerns about card skimming.