Buying gas? Beware. Skimming machines, illegal devices that help thieves capture people’s credit and debit card information, are being found on gas pumps across the state. Elise Amendola AP
Buying gas? Beware. Skimming machines, illegal devices that help thieves capture people’s credit and debit card information, are being found on gas pumps across the state. Elise Amendola AP

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How to keep thieves from siphoning your credit card data at gas pumps

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

August 10, 2017 3:54 PM

Texans: Watch out the next time you fill your car up with gas.

State officials say devices known as credit card skimmers have been found across the state in fuel pumps, helping thieves siphon information from Texans’ credit and debit cards.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is asking Texans to be on alert and report any problems they find at the state’s more than 400,000 fuel pumps.

“This is pretty much organized crime,” Miller said. “We got on to them in East Texas, then they moved to Katy, then San Antonio, then Austin. We’ve found them just about all over the state.”

Despite the growing problem, Miller said it’s going to be harder than ever to find and stop people from installing skimmers in pumps statewide after Sept. 1.

That’s when a new law, House Bill 2174, goes into effect preventing workers with the Texas Department of Agriculture from inspecting and testing gas pumps across the state — checking for everything from dirty fuel to proper octane ratings — on a regular basis.

Inspections will be done by companies licensed by the state, but not until there are at least three complaints in a year’s time or if the pumps haven’t been inspected in 1 1/2 years. At that point, the Agriculture Department will require owners to have their pumps inspected.

“Texans are going to get screwed,” said Miller, who unsuccessfully worked to stop the bill and to get Gov. Greg Abbott to veto it. “We will see how it plays out.”

For now, Miller encourages Texans to stay alert at the gas pumps and watch out for skimming problems.

Among his tips: look for any damage to the credit card reader, or if it’s loose, and report problems to the clerk on duty. Use your credit card — or better yet, pay cash inside or use mobile pay — instead of your debit card to safeguard your bank account.

Avoid pumps on the end that clerks might not be able to see at all times. And check your phone to see if a lot of numbers are trying to connect to Bluetooth when you pull up. That’s a giveaway there might be problems because some of those devices need Bluetooth signals to gain data from the skimmers.

Miller said you should always get a receipt, whether to report potentially bad gas or to know which station to contact if your personal information is taken by thieves.

And if you have a choice, always use the new pumps with raised keypads or horizontal, rather than vertical, card readers, Miller said.

Anyone who finds problems should call the Agriculture Department at 1-800-TELL-TDA as soon as possible.

In the race

Dan McQueen — who served 37 days as mayor of Corpus Christi before resigning the post on Facebook earlier this year — is the latest person to jump into the race for U.S. Senate.

The Republican joins incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and declared Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso in the battle for U.S. Senate.

“I officially announce my candidacy for U.S. Senate to bring the voice of the people, for the people and by the people back to the Government of our Great Nation,” McQueen wrote in a press release. “I pledge that I will focus on three key factors for Texas: Quality Employment, Security and Efficient Government that believes in REAL Term Limits.

“I will WORK for Texan’s and the foundation that continues to make America Great.”

The political newcomer last year made big headlines in the Coastal Bend when he bested incumbent Mayor Nelda Martinez for the post. Slightly more than a month later — after talking about how he was attacked by the council, the media and the public — he announced on Facebook that he was leaving the mayor’s office.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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