By Louie Graves
and John Balch
High-tech thieves have taken credit or debit card information from gas pumps in Nashville and Murfreesboro, and are using the information – in some cases – to empty bank accounts and make purchases.
Banks notified convenience store owners Wednesday, Feb. 22 that their customers were reporting unusual activity on credit and debit cards.
At least five “skimmer” devices have been removed from gas pumps at Road Mart in Nashville, and C-Stop in Murfreesboro. Both stations are Exxon vendors.
Cindy Turner, owner of Road Mart and Buddy’s in Mineral Springs, said that at least four customer accounts had been compromised, and Murfreesboro Police Chief Randy Lamb estimated that at least 20 reports had been logged with his department. Skimmers were found on three pumps in Murfreesboro and two in Nashville.
“My advice is: Don’t pay by credit card at the pump. Pay inside,” said Turner who said she was sorry for the customers’ problems caused by thieves.
She said that thieves apparently had a key which got them through the door of a gas pump, usually out of sight from the checkout counter inside the store. The thief could open the door and install a “pigtail” device in 32 seconds.
Howard County Sheriff Bryan McJunkins said that the thief then merely had to drive past the pump, activate a Bluetooth device and download credit or debit card information from the pump into a phone.
Sheriff McJunkins said that other convenience stores in Howard County had been inspected, and no more “skimmer” devices were found.
Nashville police investigated the thefts at Road Mart. No other skimmers have been found in Nashville.
Turner said that she would spend about $5,000 to get customized pump door keys, install new cameras and take other steps to prevent future high-tech thefts.
She said that she and her employees had attended a credit card security session put on the U.S. Secret Service, the law enforcement agency which deals with credit or debit card fraud. The instructor said that the high-tech thieves were operating mostly along interstates and in bigger cities because it was easier to get more card information.
“He told us that we were mostly safe in small towns,” Turner said. “Well, here it is.”
Banks have been covering the losses from victims’ accounts, but persons who have made credit card purchases at either of the convenience stores should closely monitor activity on their credit and debit card accounts.
Turner said she recommended that those customers also get new cards. She said that the debit card information could be used to empty an account, and credit card information was mostly sold overseas since purchases could be traced back to the buyer. She said that the pumps at her stations are checked every day, but that these skimmers were described as a “new style” unfamiliar to local police.
Chief Lamb said that it was difficult to investigate and prosecute such cases because the actual thefts take place in other jurisdictions.
“The problem is the cards are compromised in one place and the actual crime of them being used is happening in other cities and sometimes other states,” Lamb said.