The Secret Service Cracks Down on Credit Card Skimmers

When you think about the Secret Service of the United States, you probably think of them as the security protectors of our president and other elected officials. You probably don’t associate them with being a defender of credit card fraud. Yet that is one of their additional functions.

Specifically, the United States Secret Service went into high gear over the Thanksgiving weekend to target a specific kind of credit card thief: the skimmer. A skimmer is a device that is placed into legitimate credit card readers to capture the data of the card being used for a legitimate payment. The most common place to insert a skimmer is into a gas pump. They are unattended and used frequently. The perfect combination for a thief. It’s like leaving the candy store unguarded.

The Secret Service began “Operation Deep Impact” on Thanksgiving Day, set to coincide with an increased demand for fuel over the holidays. “The annual increase in motor travelers on the road during holidays mean bigger paydays for card-skimming financial criminals who target victims at fueling stations,” according to a statement issued by the Secret Service.

Here’s how it works: Credit card skimming occurs when illegal card readers are installed to a gas pump’s payment area. Once a consumer inserts their card into the fake reader, criminals are then given access to the person’s data to use or sell online. The same devices are also used on ATMs. The secret service estimates they discover about 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with the average skimmer having information from about 80 cards on it.

Once the skimmer is inserted into a reader, the thief never needs to retrieve it. They can capture the information on their cell phone using Bluetooth technology. They can get a lot of stolen credit card data quickly including your card number, security code, PIN, expiration date, billing address and of course, your name. This makes it very easy to use your credit card at online purchasing sites.

What can merchants do to protect themselves and their customers? Use security cameras to monitor all of your Point-of-Sale devices. Insert a credit card into the pump readers and wiggle it. There should be absolutely no play (no movement) of the card reader. Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel is opened, the label will read “void.”

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