Central Kentucky consumers are being warned to take caution when using their credit cards after skimmers were found on gas pumps and ATMs.
Two juveniles were arrested over the weekend and charged in connection with stealing credit card numbers at several Lexington locations, police said.
The use of card skimmers has increased recently with six of the devices being seized in the last 10 days, said Detective Mike Helsby of the Lexington police department’s Financial Crimes Unit. No other arrests have been made.
“There are definitely other people involved, there have only been two arrests and the investigation is ongoing,” Helsby said.
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The gas pump skimmers consist of a short length of wide, flat wire with a small electronic storage device attached that collects card information. They are placed inside a gas pump and connect to the pump’s card reader. Cards swiped through the scanner are accessed and approved normally but the skimmer is also saving the information from the card.
“It’s basically an internal memory for credit card numbers,” Helsby said.
The juveniles were charged with trafficking in financial information and two counts of possession of a forgery device allegedly for skimming numbers at a Marathon station and at an unnamed bank in the Hamburg area, police said.
Ahmed Ryial has worked at his cousin’s Marathon station on West Main Street for three years. Last Tuesday, when Ryial was checking the receipt printers on their pumps, he noticed unusually wide wires were attached inside the machine.
A company that serviced the station’s pumps confirmed they were skimmers, and police were called to remove them.
Ryial said he has never seen skimmers at the station before and was surprised at how easily the criminals accessed their pumps.
“I don’t know how they got the keys but the company told me that keys can be bought online,” Ryial said.
Most gas pumps use universal keys to allow inspectors and maintenance people access to multiple pumps. The keys can easily be duplicated.
Ryial said that they have changed the locks on the pumps and have installed external cameras to watch the outside of the station.
546 percent increase in ATM skimming attacks from 2014 to 2015, according to FICO Card Alert Service
Skimmers attached to ATMs, like the ones found at the bank in Hamburg, can be easier to spot. The police Financial Crimes Unit has seized devices that look like covers to card readers.
The devices, placed over real readers, record information. A secondary metal panel disguising a camera is hung on the side of the machine in order to record the pin numbers of unsuspecting customers.
Skimmers were found in Winchester in March and in Versailles last year, but Helsby couldn’t say whether these incidents were related to Lexington’s cases.
“We have seen ATM skimmers in Lexington in 2015 and we are still working on the case to see if they are related to the ones found this year,” Hilsby said.
Skimmers of all sorts can be found through the “dark web,” underground websites accessed through online anonymity programs like TOR, or manufactured with resources from a computer store, Helsby said. Two of the skimmers seized by the Financial Crimes Unit were made using ribbon cable stolen from a gas pump.
These skimmers must be manually removed in order to retrieve the card numbers but more sophisticated models can be Bluetooth enabled to allow quick access by driving up to the pump.
Some gas stations seal their pumps with security tape in order to alert customers to tampering. The bright colored tape is placed over the edges of the pump’s compartments and it instructs customers to report if the seal is broken. Helsby said broken security tape can provide a warning to customers but tape doesn’t prevent tampering.
“People should be aware if anything is out of place and should cover up the keypad when entering their pin to be safe,” Helsby said.
The use of skimmers isn’t new but there has been a national increase in their use this year with CreditCards.com dubbing 2016 “the year of the gas station skimmer.”
With ATM’s and stores integrating technology to read security chips in cards, gas pumps have become targets for criminals hoping to score information before their technology becomes obsolete. Helsby said these trends in information theft extend beyond Lexington.
“We’ve seen this type of activity up and down the East Coast,” Helsby said. “It’s not just Lexington or Kentucky. It’s a lot more far reaching than that.”