BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – When the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Unit recently opened up dozens of gas pumps in a county-wide credit card skimmer sweep, they discovered two skimmers.
Lt. Tod Goodyear said that was good news and bad news.
“That’s a pretty good number for us,” Goodyear said."When you think of the number of gas pumps throughout Brevard County, to now have only two we’re very happy with that. We’d like it to be none I will take two."
In recent years, investigators were finding dozens of skimmers across Brevard County when they’d do routine checks but now Goodyear said the numbers are declining, in part because of enforcement but also because more gas station owners are upgrading their pumps.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that while gas pump skimmer numbers are falling as owners upgrade their pumps Goodyear said criminals are still targeting older model pumps.
Most credit-card-number-stealing skimmers are engineered to plug into older technology credit card readers because on old, antiquated gas pumps skimmers are undetectable because they’re hidden inside the pump.
Many of those old pumps are installed at smaller, independent "mom and pop" gas stations.
"I think as far as [upgrading] the pumps it comes down to a financial cost," Goodyear said. "A lot of the mom and pop stations don't have the money to invest in that type of technology that would help us in keeping the skimmers off their pumps."
When investigators examined the old pumps, many were not locked or otherwise properly secured. Some pump housing doors were held together with tape and zip ties.
Goodyear said keys to the locks on antiquated pumps are readily available on the internet.
"There is a way for people if they wanted to to get into those pumps," Goodyear said. "They could buy keys through the black market to get into the pumps."
And those red labels taped to the pumps that are supposed to indicate that the pump hasn't been tampered with can easily be peeled off and replaced. Some crooks carry their own labels.
Goodyear said if you choose to buy gas at an older pump, the only way to be sure your credit card number is not stolen is to walk inside and pay the clerk directly.
Credit card skimmers are not visible from the outside of the pump and transmit stolen credit card numbers via Bluetooth so crooks can pull up to the pump with their computers and transfer the stolen data wirelessly.
All pumps must be upgraded to accept credit card chip technology by October or gas station owners could be held liable for fraud.
One way to tell if a credit card reader has been upgraded is to check how your card is inserted. If the reader is horizontal rather than vertical, typically the reader has been upgraded.
You can file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture if you notice a pump isn’t being maintained: https://www.fdacs.gov/Contact-Us/File-a-Complaint