Scammers break into gas pumps to steal card information
HALEYVILLE — Those paying at the pump to buy petrol are being urged to exercise extreme caution and either pay in cash or pay to the seller in-store due to an ongoing scam. Law enforcement agencies are issuing strong alerts across the county and region due to an ongoing fraud involving devices built into credit or debit card readers in gas pumps, resulting in card number theft. This has resulted in the victims receiving unauthorized purchases in their bank accounts, police have confirmed. “I’ve never seen that in my 16 years in law enforcement,” said Rodney Lewis, Haleyville Police Chief. So far, the scams appeared to be concentrated in the Haleyville area, where devices were installed in a gas pump at each of the three local convenience stores, Lewis said. But more than 200 customers who used debit or credit cards at the pumps to buy gas at those stores have been affected, Chief Lewis warned. “We learned at one of the local gas stations on March 30 that one of the pumps contained one of the credit card skimmers,” Chief Lewis said. And yes, scammers who build devices called skimmers into the card reading area of gas pumps to retrieve information from used debit or credit cards. The third skimmer was removed from a gas pump at a gas station early on Friday, April 8, police said. Victims have reported unauthorized purchases on their cards at convenience stores in Lakeland, Fla., and Nashville, Tennessee, with the largest unauthorized purchase to date being $198 per customer, police said. A local business was informed of a possible incident at one of their pumps, so service personnel were dispatched to the pumps and discovered the skimmer in the pump, Chief Lewis said. The scammers actually open the pumps, disconnect the internal card reader and instead plug in the skimmer device and then close the pump, police said. “The public won’t know they’re here,” Chief Lewis said. When asked how the scammers opened the machines, Chief Lewis noted that older machines can be opened without sending an alarm or turning off the pumps. “The newer machines will turn off the pump,” Chief Lewis. “None of the rigged pumps are new enough to send a notification.” Some of the rogue devices store information that is recorded at the credit or debit card pumps, while other devices are Bluetooth, which are stored until the criminal returns, be within range of that device and upload any map information to their cell phone, Chief Lewis said. “There are no 24-hour convenience stores, but we do have gas stations that pay at the pump 24 hours a day,” Lewis said. Once the scammers extract the information from the credit or debit card machines in the pumps, they can use those numbers to make purchases, police warn. “We spoke to some of the local banks and basically confirmed that this has happened,” Lewis said. “All of the fraudulent transactions that took place took place outside of the state, as far as I am aware.” Chief Lewis stressed to the public that local residents are taking to social media to slam local convenience stores and gas stations over the incidents. “These stations in the city are victims like the individual because they have no way of knowing that they exist,” stressed the boss. Customers using debit or credit cards at the pumps can still do so but at their own risk during the current scam, police warn. “I would say if you want to use your card, go to the store and use it inside. Don’t use it at the pumps,” Lewis urged. “Companies are probably more affected than individuals because of word of this on their station,” Lewis continued. So far, skimmers have been removed from gas pumps at three Haleyville locations and are under police control. Each of the affected stations had a skimmer in a gas pump, police said. “As far as we know, these are the only three that have been in town,” Lewis said. “I can’t find where it is in any other city around us or in our county,” he noted. “That doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Lewis believes the card or personal card information retrieved from gas pumps is downloaded onto a group. “I’m not saying it’s not local,” the chief said. “I will say there is a large group of them. Several people will be involved in this.” The charge against the person or persons responsible for this scam includes fraudulent use of a credit card, police say. “When you sign a ticket, you forge someone’s signature. If we look it up, there will be several different criminal charges,” the chief said. Warnings were sent out not only to the City of Haleyville’s Facebook pages, but also to the Haleyville Police Department. Contacts have also been made with the Winston County Sheriff’s Office, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Winston/Marion District Attorney’s Office and police chiefs throughout Winston County and Bear Creek in Marion County, Lewis said. The case is currently a joint effort by the Haleyville Police Department, the Winston County Sheriff’s Office, the Winston County DA’s Office and the SBI. Those who suspect any form of criminal activity are urged to contact the Haleyville Police Department at 205-486-5201. “This can’t be allowed to happen,” Chief Lewis said.
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