Station owner takes steps to thwart skimming at gas pumps

They typically offer convenience, but more and more, credit-card readers on gas pumps are being used by criminals to steal data from unsuspecting customers.

Skimming is when a criminal installs a piece of malicious hardware to a card reader, usually at gas stations, typically in a site that can't be easily seen by store employees. The skimmer saves information from the card swipes and PIN number inputs. The thief then copies the data onto blank debit cards to purchase items or to raid a bank account.

Alexandria resident Jonah Baldorrama found out the hard way when he discovered his debit card information had been stolen. He tried to use his card and it was declined.

"My bank just shut down my account," he said.

Unbeknownst to Baldorrama, someone in Florida had access to his debit card information and had tried to make several purchases. The bank said Baldorrama had likely been the victim of skimming.

These types of crimes are on the rise in Indiana, where dozens of such devices have been found this year. But Ricker's, an Anderson-based business with convenience store/gas stations throughout Indiana, is spending $150,000 to prevent the crimes from getting out of hand.

Ricker's recently announced that it will install a system that warns the company when the front panel of a gas pump is opened, which is how the skimming devices are installed and hidden.

"Card skimming is rapidly becoming a threatening issue, not only in Indianapolis, but nationwide," said Jay Ricker, company founder and chairman. "It's important that our customers feel safe when they make a transaction at our pumps."

Currently, the company—like most other gas stations—uses a small sticker that is broken if the device is tampered with. However, these stickers are easy to duplicate.

The new system is set to be rolled out to all 56 Ricker's locations over the next 12 weeks. Ricker said the system is expected to notify management via email 11 seconds after a pump is tampered with. The store will then label the pump "out of order," until it can be inspected.

"Ultimately, we just want our customers to be able to come to Ricker's and pump with peace of mind without fear of their credit card information being stolen," Ricker said.

William Wrenn, who was visiting friends from Chicago, said it doesn't matter what companies do to protect customer's data, he will use cash whenever possible.

"I'm 50 years old; I don't trust no one," he said.

Blake Brown of Anderson echoed Wrenn's sentiments.

"I just don't like having my data out there," Brown said. "So I pay with cash."

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