Credit card skimming is on the rise at the pump, so what are the big companies doing about it?

How to keep crooks out of your account at the pump

TAMPA - We wanted to know just what the big gas companies are doing to protect their customers’ private information. It's not as much as you may think.

Fraud at the gas pump -- the Secret Service ranks it as one of their top investigations in the Tampa area. The I-Team discovered that since 2011, the Secret Service has investigated reports of at least 130 credit card skimmers across Florida, more than 60 in the Tampa region alone.

Since February unseen skimmers hijacked customer credit card numbers at 20 Hess stations around Florida, including 9 in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. In Jennifer Osterman's case the bad guys used her information to load up on alcohol and cigarettes. Osterman said she trusted she was putting her card into a secure pump.

So what are the giant gas station chains doing to protect their customer's private information?

Some have been using a security seal, basically a label that if broken when checked by employees makes them aware that tampering may have occurred.

Investigators say in the February Hess cases the pumps did not have the security seal, something Hess will neither confirm nor deny. However in a statement the company says, "To protect customers, we continue to intensify security measures to help prevent future incidents.”

But after visiting 40 major chain gas stations around the Tampa Bay area, the I-Team saw no sign of the seals at more than half the stores.

Even more troubling -- we found loose or broken tape on several pumps.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Bruce Crumpler said while more companies are implementing policies to use the tape it's left up to the franchise. The tape is worthless if employees are not regularly circling the pumps, he said.

We don't know if these pumps were tampered with but at the 7-Eleven at Himes Avenue and Columbus Drive in Tampa the seal appears to have been sliced on one pump and ripped off another. And at a Rally on Ulmerton and Starkey roads in Largo we found the tape on three pumps flapping in the wind. Days later the seals still had not been replaced.

It says right on the seal that if it's broken please report it inside a gas station.

We reported the problem tape we found to the 7-Eleven and Rally. In a statement 7-Eleven said:

"We at 7-Eleven take the matter of gasoline-pump skimmer devices very seriously. That is why we have procedures in place to guard against this type of fraudulent activity. One is that store personnel are to check seals daily. Fortunately, we have no record of any recent skimming devices placed on our dispensers in the Tampa Bay area. We believe that the torn or sliced seals WFTS found were when store personnel had to cut through the seals to change customer-receipt paper. We are reinforcing our procedures with our store operators. Meanwhile, we are working on other solutions that are confidential at this time.”

We also checked five Hess stations in recent weeks and found what appeared to be new security seals on every pump.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Look for the tape. If it is torn or missing, you may want to consider paying inside the store. Also be vigilant about checking your debit and credit card balances.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Look for the tape. If it is torn or missing, you may want to consider paying inside the store. Also be vigilant about checking your debit and credit card balances. 

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