RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a recent sweep of gas pumps in North Carolina, state inspectors found three credit-card skimmers.
Inspectors with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services visited 972 gas stations in 12 counties and examined 8,567 fuel dispensers. During the monthlong sweep, the team found three skimming devices in Mecklenburg and Nash counties.
The skimmers, mounted over the pump’s card reader, copy account data from the magnetic stripe on a customer’s credit card after it is swiped to pay for fuel. They can also copy a PIN if the customer is paying with a debit card.
“Our inspectors are at gas stations across the state inspecting gas pumps for accuracy in pricing and gallons sold, as well as fuel quality,” said North Carolina agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler in a press release. “Card skimmers have received a lot of attention in recent months and we really wanted to see what we would find across the state.”
During a sweep, inspectors can typically examine up to four gas stations a day, depending on the number of dispensers. In the most recent sweep, inspectors focused solely on card readers and examined 10 to 12 stations per day, or 125 card readers.
“Unfortunately for consumers, there’s no way to tell by looking at a pump if it’s been tampered with,” Troxler said. “Through our training, we’ve learned that it takes the average thief less than 30 seconds to install a skimmer.”
Inspectors are also able to educate gas-station owners about card skimmers during the sweep. “When we tell a store manager that we are looking for skimmers they usually ask us lots of questions about what to look for and how to help,” said Stephen Benjamin, director of the agriculture department's standards division.
“Our inspectors show managers pictures of skimmers and what to look for to protect themselves,” said Benjamin. “If you aren’t sure what you are looking for in a machine, it could be easy to overlook a skimmer. Having store managers’ eyes on the pumps is helpful, too. We need everyone from our inspectors to store owners to be on the lookout.”
Should an inspector find a skimming device, he or she shuts down the pump, notifies the store manager and contacts law enforcement. The standards division plans to look for card skimmers as a routine part of its gas pump inspections, and it is planning sweeps in more counties in the state.