PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Shell is the latest gas station chain to report finding credit card skimming devices. The company sent a letter to Palm Beach gas station owners Monday warning them that credit card skimmers had been found but wouldn’t name specific locations.
This comes weeks after another Florida gas station chain, Hess, announced customer credit card information was stolen with these unseen skimmers.
That’s when the Consumer Watchdog Jenn Strathman started looking into why something more wasn’t being done to protect your valuable credit card information. She found many stations could be taking a simple security step, but many aren't.
Jennifer Osterman said she used her credit card at a Tampa area gas station days before the company announced skimmers had been found. Thieves rang up over $100 in alcohol and cigarette purchases.
“When you put your credit card in you trust what that device is,” Osterman said.
The U.S. Secret Service helps local police departments investigate these crimes. The Florida offices of the agency have reported over 130 reported cases across Florida since 2011.
“They are gaining access inside the pump,” said John Joyce, the Special Agent in Charge of the
Tampa office of the U.S. Secret Service.
He demonstrated how small the skimming devices can be.
“It still lets the transaction go through but it captures the credit card information,” Joyce described.
In April, Hess reported that since February, unseen skimmers hijacked credit card information at 16 stations statewide including at least seven in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
The gas pumps at the station on Okeechobee near Congress in West Palm Beach now sport security tape. It’s put over the door of the credit card reader. A gas station employee or customer can easily see if the tape has been tampered with.
Investigators say Hess did not have this security feature when they had problems in February. The company won’t confirm or deny that. In a statement, company spokesman Dennis Moynihan wrote, “to protect customers, we continue to intensify security measures to help prevent future incidents.”
“It's just to stay one step ahead,” said Kevin Dalton who owns three gas stations including a Chevron at the intersection of Northlake and Military Trail. He uses the security tape at two of the three stations he owns.
But the Consumer Watchdog found more stations not using the security tape. We checked 20 other major chain gas stations in Palm Beach County and along the Treasure coast.
We found only five of the 20 stations used security tape. At three of the five using the tape, we found it had been tampered with.
Kevin Dalton thinks more stations will use it when they learn it’s available.
“I don't think the gas companies have done enough to let us know they have this product,” Dalton said. He was made aware of it by Shell. Now, checking the tape is part of his employees’ jobs.
“Each shift is required to come outside and check to make sure that none of them have been tampered with,” Dalton said. “And they know what it looks like if it's been tampered with.”
It's added security Jennifer Osterman would like to see at every gas station.
“I would hope they take every precaution necessary to keep your information private and secure,” she said.
When you pull up to the pump you can check for the tape near the credit card reader. If it’s not there or torn or void, you should let the store clerk know. Sometimes, it could be that a clerk didn’t replace tape when replacing credit card receipt paper. Still, station owners like Dalton want you to advise their clerks when you see a problem.
If you see signs of tampering, you also may want to consider paying inside.