If you had to make a list of all the situations in which someone might be watching you without your knowledge, you might think about places like your home or office. You probably WOULDN’T immediately think of all those times you fill up your car’s fuel tank at the gas station, yet this is actually a very common occurrence in many places. Credit card skimmers are sophisticated little devices that can copy the information on your card’s magnetic strip without your knowledge. Once a duplicate card has been made, someone can do an untold amount of damage before you even realize you have an issue in the first place.
The credit card skimming problem in one Ohio town got so severe that officials recently employed a decidedly “outside the box” approach to solving it. Instead of reacting to credit card skimmers after they’ve already stolen the personal information of victims, they’ve started placing hidden cameras in strategic locations to try to catch criminals ahead of time instead.
Butler County: What Happened?
Officials in Butler County have been taking a unique approach to credit card skimmers in recent months: They’ve started installing cameras inside some gas station pumps and are performing weekly checks at 100 different locations around the county.
If you think this sounds like overkill, you’d be wrong — the program is already yielding positive results. One of their cameras recently caught a would-be thief in the act, both illegally accessing a pump and retrieving the skimming device he had hidden inside at an earlier time.
The footage is startling in that it underlines just how easy skimmers are to install and retrieve. The man in question only needed to access the inside of the credit card terminal’s panel slightly. In this particular case, the device itself had already been removed by law enforcement agents. The man looks directly at the spot where the skimmer used to be, sees that it is gone, closes the panel and walks away. The entire process happened in a matter of seconds.
Officials in Butler County have posted the footage retrieved from their hidden camera on the internet in an attempt to help identify the man. They warn that in addition to credit card readers at gas pumps, skimmers are also usually installed in locations such as ATMs, where credit and debit cards are commonly used.
Credit Card Skimmers: Facts and Figures
According to one study, the total number of credit card skimmers reported to the Secret Service grew by about 10 percent per year between 2008 and 2010. Skimmers alone are estimated to cost both customers and businesses in the United States about $8 billion per year.
The type of credit card fraud made possible by skimmers is a large part of the reason why this is a problem that is only going to get worse as time goes on. According to one study conducted by Nielsen, worldwide credit card fraud losses in general exceeded $24.71 billion in 2016 — a massive 12 percent increase over 2015. ACI Worldwide, an electronic payment systems company, estimates that a devastating 46 percent of Americans have had their information stolen at some point during the last five years alone.
As is the case with most surveillance topics, the key to staying safe from credit card skimmers and other types of malicious technology involves taking a proactive approach to your daily life. When filling up your car’s gas tank, always try to pay inside whenever possible instead of at the gas pump. It may be less convenient, but you’re far less likely to run into a skimmer inside where an attendant is always present.
If you do insist on paying outside, you should always be suspicious of any gas pump where the security seal on the credit card reader has been broken. Also try to favor pumps that are physically close to the building, as they’re much less likely to be targeted by people trying to steal the credit card information of others. Finally, be sure to use a credit card and NOT a debit card when you pay at the pump. Even if you are the victim of a credit card skimmer, you will likely be protected from this type of fraud by your card’s zero-liability policy.