Credit card skimming crimes are increasing all around the Austin area, especially at gas stations, said Mike Morgovnik, financial crime detective for the Austin Police Department.
Skimming is an electronic method of capturing someone’s personal information by using a device to scan a credit card and store the information contained in the card’s magnetic strip. This crime generally takes place during a transaction at an ATM or a business, such as a gas station, said Morgovnik.
“This is a nationwide problem just as much as it is an Austin problem,” Morgovnik said. “Criminals are installing devices inside gas pumps, which makes it incredibly difficult for people to tell if they’re going to be skimmed since they can’t see inside the machine.”
When police first begin investigating a credit card fraud case, they look at a variety of possibilities before narrowing it down to skimming, Morgovnik said.
“We can usually tell where skimming takes place through patterns,” Morgovnik said. “If there are multiple reports at a certain business or gas station, it makes it easier for us to narrow down where people are being skimmed.”
Using a credit card with a chip reader might be the strongest form of protection against skimming, Morgovnik said.
“Skimmers can only store information through swiping, which makes chip readers extremely secure devices,” Morgovnik said.
Most gas stations, however, still require people to swipe their cards even if they have chip readers, Morgovnik said.
“Gas stations are not up to date on chip reading and probably won’t be for another two or three years, which makes chip readers useless,” Morgovnik said. “It’s probably why criminals use gas pumps most often when skimming, because swiping a card with a chip reader is just as dangerous as using one that only swipes.”
Radio-television-film senior David Mendez said since the act of getting gas is usually pretty fast, most people probably do not stop to think about being skimmed there.
“It’s so convenient to just swipe your card, get the gas and go,” Mendez said. “People do not have time to go in and give the cashier cash. It’s probably a gold mine for criminals.”
Undeclared freshman Enrique Palacios said because there is a chance of getting skimmed at gas stations, he does not swipe his card at pumps.
“I go inside all the time now,” Palacios said. “It takes a bit longer, but I do not want to have to hassle with banks and the police to get the money back.”
Morgovnik said it is typically hard to find out when someone’s card was actually skimmed.
“Narrowing down a specific time for when the skimming took place is incredibly difficult,” Morgovnik said. “People like to assume it happened at the last place they used their credit card, but that’s only a guess. It could be days, weeks or months before someone actually starts using their credit card.”
Checking bank statements regularly and making sure to cover your pin at ATM machines will help prevent credit card skimming, Morgovnik said.
“It’s almost impossible to actually prevent skimming,” Morgovnik said. “However, at ATM machines, people should use their hand to cover their pin because criminals sometimes place tiny cameras on the machines.”