I like to acknowledge the efforts of law enforcement to fight identity theft and fraud. Earlier this month, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office charged Boris Tumasyan, 24, and Sarkis Sarkisyan, 23, from Glendale, California with operating a debit/credit card skimming operation.
On December 6,, a gas station employee first found the skimming device attached to a circuit board inside a gas station pump, after opening the pump to investigate an error message. To catch the thieves, local law enforcment attached an alarm to notify them when the gas station pump was opened.
"Tumasyan and Sarkisyan were arrested on December 17, 2010 after the alarm was triggered. Officers searched their van and found keys that opened the gas pump and address information for several other area gas stations. Further investigation by REACT – a Bay Area high-technology and identity theft task force – found six identical skimmers hidden inside gas pumps at five locations in Mountain View and Los Altos. REACT conducted a forensic examination of those skimmers and found over 3,600 individual credit card numbers."
Debit/credit cardholders were fortunate in that local law enforcement caught the thieves before they could retrieve and use the stolen card information. This type of crime is impossible for consumers to detect because the skimming device is installed out of sight and inside the gas station pump.
As I have written before, to avoid getting "mugged" at gas station pumps, consumer must protect their PIN. Experts advise that consumers should:
- Pay at the pump using the "credit" option and not the "debit" option. This provides you with greater protections, liability limited to $50, and you don't use your PIN. Plus, you receive loyalty points if your credit card has a loyalty program.
- If you want to pay using the "debit" option, don't pay at the pump. Go inside the gas station and pay at the cashier's window with your debit card. If a "signature debit" is available, use that option instead of your PIN.
- If things look sketchy, pay with cash since that never discloses your bank account information.
What do I do? I pay with cash, especially if I am at a gas station I don't shop at regularly. It is impossible to tell if a gas station pump has been tampered with or not. I use my debit card only at my bank's ATM machines.
Congratulations to local law enforcement.