Law enforcement agencies all across the Tampa Bay area claim that credit card cloning is the number one economic crime in the region, according to local news outlet WFTS. 

The television news channel reported that, despite a Tampa Bay based task force consisting of people from various law enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service, reports of stolen credit card information is still a common occurrence. 

Credit cards are cloned using devices called skimmers. Skimmers are card readers that are designed to fit over existing ones, like those at ATMs, and look like they are apart of the machine. When you pass your card through it, the device still let's you transaction proceed as normal, so you will be able to get your cash at an ATM, but it reads and stores your credit card information as you're getting your money. 

Whoever installs these devices retrieves it at a later data and is able to extract all the credit card numbers. At this point, the criminal can either sell the information online, or record it onto other magnetic strip cards, cloning the credit card.

Though this does occur at ATMs, in the Tampa Bay area, it is a far more likely to find them at gas stations. 

Earlier this month, the St. Petersburg Police announced that a skimming device was recovered from a pump at a British Petroleum station on 4th Street. The device was discovered as part of a routine inspection by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Where the last inspection of the station occurred this past March, it is possible that six months of customer credit card information was stolen just from this one device. Officials are recommending patrons of the station review their credit and debit card information immediately.

This case also shows the importance of reviewing your credit card statements frequently. Because the skimmer does not actually charge anything to your card, it may not be months until it is flagged as suspicious. Always checking your statements will help you catch this type of fraud quicker.

Here are some steps local police suggested to avoid credit card skimmers:

  • Pay inside or pay with cash.
  • The cabinet door on the gas pump should be closed with a tamper resistant seal. If the seal is broken, don't use the pump.
  • Feel the slot to see if the reader is loose. If there's too much give, move to another pump.
  • Use pumps close to the front door of the gas station whenever possible.
  • Run debit cards as credit to avoid using the PIN.

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