CARRBORO, N.C. (WNCN) – Invisible thievery – it’s the latest kind of ripoff that’s starting to show up at some gas stations in the Triangle.
The thievery is being committed by automated devices known as card skimmers, secretly being placed in gas pumps unbeknownst to station owners.
Carrboro police discovered one in a local gas station as part of what have become routine checks by one of their investigators.
“We had a case in the past where a skimmer was placed into a gas pump,” said Cpt. Chris Atack with Carrboro police.
As a result of that, the inspector was keeping an eye on local gas stations to see if the problem reoccurred.
“The investigator on that case was checking gas pumps in our community Tuesday and discovered one in a pump at a station off Jones Ferry Road,” Atack said.
Once the police department put the word out about the skimmer, Atack said they began getting responses from residents who had their accounts compromised.
“We don’t have an exact total yet, but there was a significant number,” he said.
Security experts say once the skimmer is put inside the gas pump, the criminals can retrieve your information wirelessly by Bluetooth without ever having to come near the pump again.
State inspectors say it’s easy for bad guys to access a pump without station owners realizing they’ve been compromised. Gas pump keys are readily available online and the skimmers can be installed in seconds during the dead of night when a station is closed.
“Some of the pumps, for maintenance reasons and for weights and measures, have keys might be universal. You can order them off of eBay,” said Stephen Benjamin, director of standards at the North Carolina Department Of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
So, check the pump before you fill up.
“You have to look at the gas pump. Do they have misaligned graphics? Does the lock look like it’s been compromised? Is it scratched? Is there external damage to the pump?” said Atack.
If you notice any of that, or are worried about a pump’s security, you can always you can always pay inside at the counter, even though it is a little less convenient.
Security experts also recommend gas station owners check their pumps daily to make sure no skimmers have been installed.
Card skimming is a big business for criminals.
The Secret Service estimates credit card skimming results in nearly $1 billion dollars in losses every year.
Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.