Lewisville Police Department has made three arrests following a flare–up of gas station credit card skimming across the Metroplex. Police Capt. Mike Moore says criminals using this style of scam have moved elsewhere but urged residents to stay vigilant.
Credit card skimming is a method of identity theft that revolves around copying credit card information where it is given. Perpetrators construct or purchase devices to access transactional information for credit card purchases, then turn that information into a profit in several different ways — accessing bank information online, imprinting the information onto a duplicate card or simply selling it to someone else to convert it into cash.
“Believe it or not, it is a very popular thing for bad people to get involved in, skimming devices on gas station pumps,” Moore said. “It’s the new bank robbery.”
Moore said the recent flare-up appears to have ended with the May 19 arrest of three Cuban nationals outside the 7-Eleven on Round Grove Road. Danela Castillo Aguilera, 32, Alain Hurtado Gonzalez, 34, and Yuny Rodriguez Hurtado, 28, were arrested for unlawful use of a criminal instrument.
Moore said gas station skimming devices can roughly be divided into two categories —devices that copy data onto a sim card or flash drive and need to be physically retrieved by the perpetrators or “live” devices which send the data to a bluetooth or similar device. If police find a live skimmer, Moore said they pull it out immediately, since the information goes out immediately. However, if the device requires perpetrators to return to the scene of the crime, they lay in wait. That’s how LPD made these arrests.
Moore said police proceeded to pull out about half a dozen skimming devices from different gas stations. They didn’t set up any other traps, instead relying on word to get around about the arrests and that LPD was onto the scam.
“Usually word gets around to the bad guys, ‘Hey, Lewisville Police Department has these gas stations under surveillance now.’ Most of them don’t return,” he said. “It’s a sacrificial thing.”
Moore said that though it seems to be over, many details of the crime spree remain unclear, such as exactly how many gas stations were hit and by whom. He said the suspects immediately asked for a lawyer and said nothing to police, but because the card skimmers police recovered were all different models, they have to assume they were used by all different people.
Card skimming devices are also commonly found in ATMs, restaurants and department stores. According to Denton County Sheriff’s Office investigator John Schofield, this type of identity theft is driving a broad transformation in credit cards. Banks and retail sites have spent billions to facilitate EMV credit cards, or “chips,” which use a unique transaction code with every purchase, making them impossible to duplicate.
“At this time, I’ve not been informed of any successful cloning of a chipped card,” Schofield said.
Businesses have spent billions to accommodate chips since the October 2015 liability shift. One of the biggest problems fraud causes is that someone still has to pay for the fraudulent transactions. Before, banks simply ate that loss, but in October, liability shifted to businesses in instances where credit card information was cloned from a store that did not offer a chip reader, meaning that they would have to pay. This is driving the broad transformation toward EMV chips, technology that has been around outside of the U.S. for several years.
Solving counterfeit fraud by shifting liability instead of legislation has been met with criticism, but the results have been immediate — while identity theft on the whole hit an all-time high last year, card counterfeit fraud was cut in half at EMV–enabled retail sites, and the fraud industry is noticeably scrambling to copy as many cards as possible before EMV technology fully cycles in.
Schofield said in addition to converting to EMV credit cards, online diligence is the best way to keep your identity safe. He urged residents to use strong passwords, regularly check on account activity and lie on account security questions, so even people who know the real answers can’t get into your account.
At the gas station, Moore urged residents to examine their pumps before swiping.
“When you go to the machine and you look at that receiver slot, it’s usually attached to a panel door, and there’s usually a locking mechanism,” he said. “If you’re going to a good gas station, they have some type of security tape that bridges the door, so they can go out on a regular basis and if that security tape is torn, that means somebody has opened that door up.”
He said consumers should patronize gas stations with security tape on the pumps and gravitate toward the inner pumps. Criminals normally use outside pumps that are easier to get to and away from and are more likely to be security camera blind spots.
He said the only way to be 100 percent sure information doesn’t get copied, however, is to pay cash.
Editor’s note: The blotter report for the arrested individuals listed a charge of “Unl Use of Criminal Instrument.” “Unl” should be an abbreviation for unlawful, but was originally listed here as unlicensed.