Harlingen police probing credit card scams

HARLINGEN — Check the fuel pump before filling up the gas tank.

In Harlingen, more thieves are installing credit card reading devices as part of schemes to steal account numbers, Sgt. Larry Moore said Friday.

Now, police are investigating three cases in which thieves installed credit card skimmers at convenience store fuel pumps, he said.

“It’s showing up more and more,” Moore said, adding the scam is spreading across parts of Houston. “It seems to be picking up pace down here a lot more.”

Officials are also urging residents to use bank ATM machines, warning them about machines in stores, restaurants and bars.

“Try to only use official bank ATMs instead of non-bank ATMs that are often found inside convenience stores or bars,” officials stated in a press release.

Since last month, thieves have installed credit card skimmers on fuel pumps at three Valero fuel pumps outside Stripes convenience stores, Moore said.

On Dec. 19, a Stripes store at 1800 Tyler Ave. reported finding a skimmer on a fuel pump, he said.

Then on Jan. 17, a maintenance worker at the same Stripes store reported discovering a skimmer on a gas pump after finding evidence of tampering at five other pumps, officials stated.

Two days later, a Stripes store at 3200 E. Harrison Ave. reported a skimmer on pump No. 7, officials stated, adding on Jan. 11 the store requested a technician inspect its fuel pumps after the discovery of a broken pump seal.

“Gas pumps should have a security tape or sticker over the cabinet panel,” officials stated. “If the tape looks ripped or broken, avoid using the card reader because a thief may have tampered with it.”

Police are warning residents to check credit card readers before gassing up or withdrawing cash from ATM machines.

“Stay vigilant when using a credit card to pay for gas or when withdrawing cash at an ATM,” officials stated. “A physical inspection of a card reader and keypad can often reveal fraudulent devices. Skimmers can usually be spotted by doing quick visual or physical inspections before swiping or inserting a card. Try looking inside the card reader to see if anything is already inserted. If there is, it may be a thin plastic circuit board that can steal card information. Feel around the reader and try to wiggle it to see if it can easily come out of place. If any part of a gas pump’s card reader looks suspicious, pay for gas inside with the cashier and let them know there may be a skimmer installed at the pump.”

Police are offering tips to help residents avoid becoming victims.

“A skimmer is a device installed on card readers that collects card numbers,” officials stated. “Thieves will later recover and use this information to make fraudulent purchases. Card skimming theft can affect anyone who uses their credit or debit cards at ATMs, gas stations, restaurants or retail stores. Cover fingers with the other hand while entering a pin to block potential cameras. Don’t ever give a card to a credit card cleaner who claims he or she can clean the magnetic stripe or chip on a card to make it easier to read. These are often scams designed to steal credit card information.”

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