TAMPA - Drivers who pay at the pump have more to worry about than the cost of gas. High-tech thieves are skimming debit and credit card numbers by the hundreds at fuel stops throughout central Florida.
It's a sneaky rip-off. Most victims don't know they've been hit until they open their credit card bill. "I figured it was safe and I go there all the time and you know its a brand new store," said Tracey Maccornack.
Sheriff's reports list Tracey as one of about 150 people whose credit card numbers were stolen after stopping for gas at the RaceTrac in Avon Park between March and June. "It is unsettling that we have that many victims," says Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton.
Detectives suspect a skimmer is to blame for what Benton calls the worst case of credit card fraud ever reported in the area. "I think it is the crime of the future," she said.
And Hillsborough County Sheriff's investigators have confiscated four skimmers from separate RaceTrac stores in and around the Tampa area this year alone. "They are unlocking the door where the regular skimmer, where you put your credit card in and they attach a device you can't see."
The I-Team dug through offense reports from Hillsborough, Pasco, Highlands, Brevard and Volusia Counties and found incidents involving nine skimming devices at RaceTrac stations since December.
In eight of those cases, investigators confiscated the actual device. No other gas station company has reported more than one in the same time frame. Hillsborough Sheriff's Cpl. Kevin Bodie believes the reason is two-fold. "I think RaceTrac is targeted more frequently because of their access to interstate or major thoroughfare," says Bodie.
Records reveal RaceTrac employees discovered the devices at stations on Martin Luther King Blvd., Waters Avenue, Gunn Highway and Bearss Avenue. Another skimmer turned up in March along Land O' Lakes Blvd. in Pasco County. But Cpl. Bodie says their investigation revealed some RaceTrac pumps are more vulnerable than others. "What is unique is the keying device," says Cpl. Bodie
Economic crimes detectives say certain RaceTrac pumps open with the same master key, making them more attractive to thieves.
After discovering skimming cases tied to RaceTracs in other counties I went to the company this week with questions. In a written statement, another RaceTrac spokesperson credits security changes made last year for detecting the devices. "The skimmers in our stores were found thanks to routine pump checks our associates conduct every shift. Like retailers everywhere we are constantly working with financial institutions and law enforcement to update our security measures and keep guests protected."
The company refused to comment on the brand of pumps they use or whether some models are easier to break in than others. Yet skimming victim Matt Wyatt, whose card was hit for hundreds of dollars in June, is not convinced it won't happen again. For now he's buying his gas elsewhere. "It is no different than somebody getting an alarm at their house. You got to secure your own stuff. Why can't they?" asked Wyatt.
So here's how to protect your credit card at the pump. Pay inside the store. Make sure you get a credit card receipt or pay with cash. If you are going to use the pump avoid the outside lanes as they are the ones most often targeted due to the fact the clerk can't easily see them.
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