You've heard the term credit card "skimmer" many times in recent years. Criminals have found new tricks to steal your information. Add Bluetooth technology, texting options and "shimmers" to the list of credit card skimmer crime tactics.
The phenomenon of criminals stealing credit card information has surged through the use of credit card skimmers in recent years. The criminal installs a device into a gas station pump or ATM which can retrieve and store credit card information. Then, the criminal goes back to retrieve the device, and steal hundreds or thousands of dollars from each card. Now, the criminal is capable of leaving the device in place and retrieving the details without touching the machine a second time.
Since 2015, skimmer crimes have freckled Florida. Florida Department of Agriculture found more skimming devices in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined. Palm Beach County and surrounding parts of South Florida have seen the most reported skimmer crimes of any part of the state.
So far in 2017, more than 5 times the number of skimmers have been found in Palm Beach County than all of 2016. The Treasure Coast has had some increases as well.
MAP -- SEE IF YOUR LOCAL GAS STATION HAS HAD A REPORTED SKIMMER
Midday at a West Palm Beach gas station, it's not hard to find people who have already fallen victim to skimmers.
Neil Burcombe is one of them. He puts his fingers against various parts of the gas pump to show how he checks a machine when he fills up.
"Because it's worn, it's pretty obvious that it's part of the pump, but they'll stick like sticky keypads over the top to capture your key code when you punch it in," he said.
Burcombe does IT for hotels and secures credit card information for work, yet even he has fallen victim. He's still trying to figure out if it was a gas station or a restaurant where the skimming happened.
"It happened three times with the same location so my card, then the card we used to replace that, then the card we used to replace that so I don't know," he said.
Estimates say just one skimmer can translate to about 100 stolen credit cards. Each card has about $1,000 stolen. That's about $100,000 taken with just one device.
That too, however, might be an understatement.
"It could potentially be half a million or even higher, depending if they leave it on for a long period of time and they're never detected," said inspector Mike Scott with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees consumer complaints for the state of Florida.
He's one of about a hundred inspectors in the state who have to check for skimmers while also gauging the accuracy of pump machinery.
"They're making a killing out of this thing," he said.
Newer pump technology will shut down if the pump is opened. Some stores are rolling out the technology but it won't be required statewide for a couple of years.
"We're finding counterfeit seals that the bad guys are putting on. We're finding break-ins of the pumps, which leads to the breaking of the locks," he said.
In recent months, skimmer criminals started using Bluetooth technology. With Bluetooth, they don't have to retrieve a skimmer, they just drive close to download and steal the data.
"We're even finding Bluetooth attached to the panels of the credit card reader," he said.
Additionally, Scott says there's a brand new issue: "texting skimmers." Criminals just sit home and text the machine to steal the numbers without going near the machine again.
Something called "shimmers" are also popping up in card readers of gas pumps and ATMs. They are virtually undetectable and as slim as a credit card.
Kendrick Percell lives in Palm Beach County and visits the gas pump 3 or 4 times a week. He's been a victim twice.
"Oh it's stressful, very stressful," he said.
Percell walks in to pay every time he fills up to avoid the hassle again. Scott says that's the only way to avoid skimmers every time.
Unfortunately, even checking stickers to see if there's tampering is not a perfect system. Fake stickers have been purchased online to look like the real thing.
There are, however, several clues that will help you spot gas station skimmers, and three tips you may not have considered in protecting yourself if you use a card at the pump.
HOW TO AVOID GAS STATION SKIMMERS: CLICK HERE
Meanwhile, criminals will continue to change tactics to steal your money.
"You work so hard for it. and somebody just come behind you and take it, it's bad, it feels very, very bad," Purcell said.