Gas pump skimmer found in Keeseville

Device steals credit card info, harder to trace than any other found statewide

Wayne Taylor was doing his regular gas pump inspection at a Mobil gas station in Keeseville. The last part involved looking over the electrical work on each pump for suspicious activity. When he opened pump No. 3, he quickly found a skimmer, a device that steals credit card information.

Taylor, director of the Essex County Department of Weights and Measures, said the skimmer isn’t just the first device he’s found but also the first of its kind authorities have found in New York. While Bluetooth-based skimmers have been found around the state, this is the first cellular-based one. This device, after reading a customer’s credit card information, sends it to the thief by text message whereas others send it via Bluetooth wireless technology. Cellular skimmers are harder to trace because any Bluetooth device can pick up the signal of another nearby.

“I handed it off to the [state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation] in Plattsburgh,” he said, “and now the FBI is actually conducting a statewide investigation on gas pumps.”

To the untrained eye, a skimmer doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. It could easily be mistaken with the rest of the wires and circuits inside an electrical box, so even if owners are checking the pumps regularly, they might still miss it.

Placing a skimmer isn’t that hard, either, according to Taylor.

“People sneak in under the cover of darkness and install them into the gas pump kiosk,” he said. “It only takes a minute, not even, if you’re familiar with the electrical work.”

Plus, gas pumps don’t have specific keys for every station like cars or house doors do. They run off a set of universal keys, so thieves would need only one key to open countless pumps.

Taylor said the owner of Keeseville Mobil, Sikandar Khan, wasn’t aware of the skimmer and was upset to find it. Taylor advised Khan to install tamper-indicating seals on all of his pumps.

“All of the bigger chain operations have security seals,” he said. “If someone tries to install a skimmer, the seal will be corrupted and it will be visible. [Khan] asked if he could use another lock, but I told him it wouldn’t be enough. He can’t padlock it in a way that I can’t get into it.”

Seeing as how this is the first cellular skimmer identified in New York, Taylor said he felt both good and bad to find it.

“A lot of what I do is mundane,” he said. “When you do find something that will protect the consumer, it’s rewarding.”

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