Feb. 19, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent skimming incident at Ojai Chevron gas station has renewed questions of just how secure we are when we swipe our debit or credit cards.
Ojai Police were notified of a possible skimming device at the downtown Ojai station Feb. 4. When the Chevron card readers were looked at, said Ojai Police Detective Mike Harris, “something suspicious” was found. “We ended up finding two skimming devices, which we took as evidence,” he added.
“We don’t believe any information was taken from that skimmer,” said Chevron owner Paul Robie. “Chances are we caught it within 24 hours.”
According to Harris, skimming devices “are like little circuit boards” which are illegally installed in card readers in order to obtain customers’ account information. Skimmers are attached inside the card reader, under the faceplate. “There’s a wire that attaches to the actual card reader itself … like a plug-in,” Harris explained. Account information can be stored in the device itself or sent to another location wirelessly.
Until investigators learn more, it’s not possible to know how many people may have been affected.
This is not the first time a skimming incident has been reported in the Ojai Valley. In 2009, skimmers were placed in gas stations in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, including at the Valero gas station in Ojai. At that time, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials said that Valero has begun “conducting visual checks of all the gas pumps throughout the day.”
Harris also mentioned another skimming incident at Ojai Gas (formerly Union 76), but did not provide a specific date for that alleged incident.
Capt. Don Aguilar, media relations officer with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, said it has been several months since a skimming incident had been reported in Ventura County. The last one occurred in Thousand Oaks in 2012, he said. But “It does happen a lot … especially in L.A., there’s a lot of that going on.”
And it’s not just at gas pumps that skimming occurs. “I have heard of them being used at bank ATMs, mobile ATMs at restaurants and inside gas stations,” said Harris. “I’ve even heard of them using skimmers at businesses.”
Harris acknowledged that technology exists for crooks to obtain credit card information from a card in a person’s purse or wallet. “And the other problem is … they can make up a card. All they have to do is imprint someone else’s information on the magnetic strip,” Harris explained. “They could take their ID and their credit card and put someone else’s information on it.”
Catching the criminals, however, is difficult work — especially because the level of surveillance of card readers varies. But, Harris noted, Sheriff’s Department experts were examining the devices found at Ojai Chevron to see if they can learn details of how they were obtaining customer information.
“It is an organized ring nine out of 10 times,” Harris said. “These are organized people, organized groups doing this.”
That’s why the Secret Service has created its own task force to investigate skimming. Harris said that task force had been notified of the Feb. 4 discovery. “That’s all they do, is this type of investigation, because it’s so easy and prevalent.”
Robie said he takes several precautions at his station. “We do check the pumps daily,” he said. A security seal is also placed over the card reader’s door, “so if it has been tampered with, we’ll know. It’s numbered and they’re sequential. So if you try to open it, the tape will stretch and … ‘open’ will appear on it. Or, if you cut it with a razor blade, we would be able to tell.” He added that he is looking into adding new locks to the dispensers.
So how does one avoid being victimized? First, carry as little information as possible with you.
“You don’t need your Social Security or anything with your Social Security number on it. Because if I have your driver’s license and Social Security, then I’m you,” said Harris. “Don’t use your debit card when you go to unfamiliar businesses … because it is connected to your checking account. Use your credit card, which limits how much liability you have, usually $50 … and, obviously, monitor your statements fairly frequently.”
Wallets also exist that don’t allow would-be skimmers to collect information from the cards inside.
Finally, Harris said, “if something looks wrong with the (card reading) device, if it looks wobbly or if it’s not positioned right, don’t use it. Go inside.”
Think your account has been skimmed? Ojai Police are urging the public to report incidents at 646-1414.