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Fraudulent card reader found at St. Anthony gas station
Convenience can come at a price, according to state and law enforcement officials who say a mere swipe of a credit or debit card could compromise someone’s personal banking information.
That may have happened in St. Anthony Village in the days prior to Feb. 15, when that suburb’s police department warned residents that a credit card “skimmer” was discovered at a local gas station.
According to the office of the Minnesota attorney general, scammers have developed ways of attaching bank card readers, known as “skimmers,” to gas pumps, as well as ATMs.
“A skimmer is a small device, often smaller than a deck of cards, that can scan and store credit or debit card data from the card’s magnetic strip,” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson wrote in an informational column. “Once a card is run through the skimmer, the data is stored, and the criminal can later use that information.”
The Freedom Valu gas station in the 3800 block of Silver Lake Road in St. Anthony notified police of its find, and noted the oddity — and perhaps good fortune — that it was actually placed on an out-of-order pump.
The gas station also said that all of its pumps had been checked by the Weights and Measures division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which conducts routine inspections of gas station pumps, on Friday, Feb. 10, meaning the skimmer was likely installed on the pump between then and when it was found on Feb. 14.
Fortunately, officials said, that likely means no customers used the pump while it had the skimmer, because bright “out-of-order” bags were covering the pump’s handles.
According to St. Anthony detective Tim Briski, this is the first skimmer he’s aware of to be found or reported in the area the department serves, which, in addition to St. Anthony, includes Lauderdale and Falcon Heights.
The Bulletin confirmed with the Mounds View and New Brighton police departments, as well as the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which contracts police services to Arden Hills and Shoreview, that no addition skimmers have been found in the area as of late.
The skimmers, Briski said, are not always visible to the eye as they are typically placed inside the pump.
In addition to a lock, Briski explained, most gas stations use ‘evidence tape’ to cover and secure the maintenance door openings to each pump. That means if the door has been opened, the tape will reveal as much.
When staff members open the doors for maintenance, Briski said, they typically replace the tamper-proof security tape with a new strip.
“You always want to look for the tape,” he said, but noted the most secure way to pay for gas is to “probably go inside and pay at the counter, but then there goes your convenience.”
Though only one skimmer was found, police are reminding residents to keep a watchful eye on their banking transaction records.
Jesse Poole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7815.