‘Skimmer Summit’ Brings Awareness About Identity Theft

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Auditors and inspectors spent Thursday afternoon discussing what they say is a rising problem at the gas pumps, and it has nothing to do with the prices.

Rashes of credit card number thefts, called “skimming,” have broken out in the state of Ohio, according to Montgomery County Auditor Karl L. Keith, who led a “skimmer summit” at the Athens County Library. Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson introduced Keith to an audience of 20-30 people, and Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith was on hand as well.

The two-hour seminar centered on what inspectors and credit card users should look for when filling up at the gas tank.

“Some of these skimmers can fit in the palm of your hand,” Keith said.

Thieves throughout the country have taken to breaking into pumps to insert makeshift card skimmers, which can be bought easily online, and make the gas pump or credit card scanner look as though it hadn’t been tampered with.

“These guys that are doing this have nothing but free time,” said Trooper Frank Applegate, an investigator for the Ohio State Highway Patrol who also works on a Task Force for the United States Secret Service to investigate fraud crimes such as these.

Administrators in many states have started thinking up ways to prevent tampering and avoid identity theft through skimming, but they have trouble keeping up with the criminals.

“They can put (skimmers) in in less than 30 seconds,” said Fran Elson-Houston, who is the Chief Deputy State Sealer for the Ohio Division of Weights and Measures, an arm of the Department of Agriculture.

The Weights and Measures Division, as well as local inspectors from county auditors offices, are working to increase  inspections and make business owners aware of suspicious activity. They are even promoting the use of tamper-proof security seals around the credit card swiping device on gas pumps, though the use of the seals is up to the business owner.

“They’re not in use at many stations and in places that do have them, some are not placed properly,” Keith said.

As for consumer protection, those at the skimmer summit said the first step is never using a debit card at the pump. Then, not only will skimmers be able to get a card number, but also the PIN when it’s entered.

“Then they can make bogus cards,” Keith said.

Routine checks of bank accounts and credit card statements are also necessary to make sure your identity hasn’t been skimmed, according to Applegate. But the people controlling the card machines also have to keep an eye out. Applegate said many gas station owners that he’s notified during investigations have dismissed his concerns, saying “that wouldn’t happen here.”

“We have to get rid of that idea that it’s not going to happen to me,” Applegate said.