The U.S. Secret Service has recently started a nationwide initiative to crackdown on credit card skimming devices installed at gas stations.
Per a report by NBC News, the crackdown operation — which has been called “Operation Deep Impact,” — was launched on Thanksgiving day when the demand for fuel considerably increased during the holiday season.
According to a statement released by the government agency, “an estimated 54 million Americans will travel across town or across the country for Thanksgiving, and while doing so, many will buy gas for their cars,” the report said.
“These annual increases in motor travelers on the road during holidays mean bigger paydays for card-skimming financial criminals who target victims at fueling stations.”
Per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit card skimming is a process through which illegal card readers, installed to a gas pump’s payment area, steal people’s card information and then sell it or use it to make fraudulent purchases.
The Secret Service said that this type of crime is getting worse with the passage of time. The NBC News report also quoted Secret Service special agent Matthew O’Neil as saying that “there’s more technology to look for skimmers in ATMs, so bad actors move towards gas pump skimmers.”
Have to travel in order to have a #HappyThanksgiving2018? Don't worry, the Secret Service has you covered. This year instead of turkey we are serving up a cold dish of justice to gas pump skimmers across the country. Read about our efforts: https://t.co/9LnAsQyXGm pic.twitter.com/EO6UklU2SO
— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) November 22, 2018
He added that the agency approximately recovers about 20 to 30 skimmers a week and by the time authorities seize these machines, the average skimmer has already stolen “information from about 80 cards on it.”
“They’re easy to create, they’re easy to deploy and they can get a lot of stolen credit card data very quickly and they [criminals] don’t even have to go back and retrieve the skimmer,” O’Neill explained, per the NBC News report.
The agency further detailed that around 200 skimmers have been recovered nationwide as soon as the Thanksgiving initiative took off and it has so far prevented nearly $6 million in fraud.
But despite the crack down, some holiday travelers have had a tough time with these skimmers. Per the report, a man named Steven Plake, who was travelling to Fulshear, Texas, became a victim of the ongoing credit card information theft.
“They charged over at Adidas and Nike. I saw charges of $75, $80 and there were three charges on there,” he said.
“[I] went to the local gas station that was real close, used my card like everybody else, and then I guess that afternoon I ended up seeing charges on my bank account that I knew I didn’t charge. We ended up calling the bank and they realized, yeah, somebody has your number.”
Although it’s difficult to spot a skimmer, the FTC recommends users to do a quick check before swiping the cards that could save them from the fraudulent practice.
“Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering,” wrote FTC specialist Colleen Tressler in an August blog post about the crime. “Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. If the pump panel is opened, the label will read ‘void,'” the report said.