Use of credit card 'skimmers' at gas stations, ATMs is exploding

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Alarming Spike in Credit Card Skimmers Targeting Gas Stations

WILLIAMSTON, Mich. -- Just weeks after police arrested five suspects accused of stealing customers' personal information from gas pumps, an intensive search is underway to find more credit card skimmers before it's too late.

"It's crazy," said Craig VanBuren, director of the Consumer Protection Section at Michigan's Department of Agriculture, the agency in charge of inspecting gas stations throughout the state. "What we're finding since August has just really blown our mind."

Inspectors are now coming across multiple skimmers a week -- not just in large cities, but in small towns.

Once installed, the devices allow thieves to secretly record a customer's credit or debit card information and steal their identity.

See how chips on credit cards may make them safer:

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Use of credit card 'skimmers' at gas stations, ATMs is exploding
BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 10: Memory chip on a credit card, master card on December 10, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
A customer enters their pin number as they make a chip and pin payment via a Verifone Systems Inc. credit card payment device at a restaurant in London, U.K., on Friday, May 22, 2015. Credit and debit cards that can be used by tapping the reader are gaining users, and mobile apps are set to further boost the popularity of contactless paying. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee demonstrates the use of an iZettle chip and pin reader mobile payment device at the iZettle AB headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Swedish payments startup iZettle AB, a rival to Twitter Inc.founder Jack Dorsey's Square Inc., raised 60 million euros ($67 million) to expand in Europe and fund a plan to offer merchants cash advances on future card sales. Photographer: Johan Jeppsson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 10: Memory chip on an EC card on December 10, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
Service Manager Morgan Mallory holds a Rail table side credit card processing device at Tableau, a Dickie Brennan & Co. restaurant, in New Orleans, Monday, June 15, 2015. Dickie Brennan & Co., which operates four New Orleans restaurants, expects to pay more than $25,000 to replace card readers and software once chip cards are phased in and magnetic stripe cards, which are easier for thieves to copy, are phased out. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Patron Jake Kratz, of Philadelphia, pays his tab with the Rail table side credit card processing device at Tableau, a Dickie Brennan & Co. restaurant, in New Orleans, Monday, June 15, 2015. Dickie Brennan & Co., which operates four New Orleans restaurants, expects to pay more than $25,000 to replace card readers and software once chip cards are phased in and magnetic stripe cards, which are easier for thieves to copy, are phased out. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2009, file photo, a MasterCard credit card with a computer chip is posed for a photo in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. By autumn 2015, millions of Americans will switch to credit cards with a computer chip instead of a magnetic strip _ 50-year-old technology that lingers on the back of U.S. cards and is easily copied by thieves, leaving people vulnerable to fraud. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
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"It's just that easy," VanBuren said. "And if you don't have a reason to look at your security film, you're not going to catch them in the end."

Criminals are accessing the gas pumps with master keys they buy online -- then secretly attaching the wires that lead to a computer chip.

"Your transaction goes through as normal," VanBuren said. "Unfortunately, at the same time, it's also capturing all of your credit card information."

The thieves then either return to collect the undetected device later or access the information remotely.

Charlotte Hessey and her husband lost an entire month's income - nearly $3,000 - to skimmers in Texas.

"This was the largest financial nightmare of our life," she said. "It puts your life on hold. You can't pay bills. You can't buy groceries. You can't go out for dinner. You can't buy lunch."

Each skimmer could compromise thousands of customers before it's discovered. They're now sold on sites like Ebay - some for less than $100.

"The technology is easy to acquire and it's smaller than you would think," said Tim Ryan, a former FBI special agent who's now a cybersecurity consultant. "It can fit in the palm of your hand."

Last year, the devices cost consumers $2 billion, according to ATM Marketplace. This year, New York police told WNBC that skimming has quadrupled in Queens and they've posted consumer warnings on ATMs.

Officials are now urging gas stations to replace locks - and use security seals to protect their pumps.

As for customers, VanBuren said they should avoid pumps farthest from the attendant's view, pay inside or with cash and regularly monitor their bank accounts.

"We're still finding them over and over," he said. "We know they're more out there but I believe we will find them."

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