Gray Taylor has a key that will open up just about every gas pump in America.
Since it is Taylor's job to secure pumps from break-ins, he knows all too well how vulnerable they are to credit card skimming — especially those in Central Florida.
Gas stations throughout areas packed with tourists are prime targets because of the high volume of use. That's why it's important for gas-station owners and customers to take preventative steps against credit-card skimmers.
"They should be doing it for the best American reason known to mankind: — self-interest," said Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, a technology company that works with the petroleum industry. "To me you can walk down a dangerous street with cash in your hand or you can take reasonable efforts to protect your cash. Nobody is going to pat you on your back if you don't get skimmed, but you are going to get kicked in your shins if you do."
Osceola County deputies are trying to track down the suspects responsible for inserting credit-card-skimming devices earlier this month at two gas stations in St. Cloud and one in Kissimmee, said spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain.
Detectives say the suspects used the universal key to install the skimmers. Luckily, only one victim had her information stolen, Lizasuain said.
To prevent these cases from happening, Taylor says there are a number of methods gas stations have been employing during the past five years.
One is using security tape over the pump. If that tape is broken, it alerts attendants that the pumps have been tampered with. Another is training attendants in what to look for on video. If someone is purposely blocking the pump from the video camera, it's a pretty good indicator that something may be wrong.
Taylor also encourages stations to change the lock on gas pumps.
Industry leaders are also working on a more technologically advanced way to combat skimming. Taylor said his company is working on credit-card readers that encrypt data. So when someone installs a skimmer device, the information comes back as scrambled numbers. Taylor said that is a few years away from implementation at gas stations.
As for customers, law-enforcement officials recommend not using your PIN number at the gas pump and to use the credit-card option instead; inspect the gas pump next to you to see whether the card reader looks different; pay attention to your bank accounts and report any irregularities to police.
Florida is 'hot spot' for skimming
Gas stations are not the only businesses susceptible to credit-card skimming.
In April, Orlando police arrested, Elizabeth Anne Linkel, 32, an employee at the Orlando International Airport, after she installed a device to take the information of people leaving the parking garage. Four days after leaving the parking lot, a man started noticing unauthorized charges from his credit card, according to an arrest report. She was later caught at a Walmart trying to buy a video game and gift cards. She used six credit cards, according to police.
Seminole County Sheriff's Office released photos in May of two men inserting a skimmer at SunTrust Bank on Palm Springs Drive in Altamonte Springs. A manager discovered the device after customers had trouble using the ATM. There was only one victim in this case, authorities said.
FICO, a California-based financial-services company, released data that named Florida a "hot spot" for skimming at ATMs in 2012. According to FICO, 41 percent of fraud cases in the state happened at retail stores; 48 percent occurred at ATMs that were not at banks; and 11 percent happened at bank ATMs.
Nationwide, 36 percent of cases occurred at retail stores; 46 percent at bank ATMs; and 18 percent at non-bank ATMs.
Fortunately for consumers, credit-card companies also are becoming more sophisticated in recognizing irregular activity on cards and will alert the user immediately, said Susan Grant of the Consumer Federation of America.
"Many consumers are being called by the [credit card] issuer even before they know there are unauthorized charges," said Grant.
If suddenly a lot of gift cards or electronics are being charged to a card, that would be a red flag for the card issuers because it looks like an unusual charge. Another red flag would be out-of-country charges, Grant said.
Orlando police Sgt. Dave Allmond said it's up to the businesses and customers to keep their eyes out. Education on what to look out for is key, he said. Hopefully, crime-prevention methods catch up with the skimmers.
"Everything is going to a technology age," Allmond said, "and hopefully as the technology progresses, there will be a way to protect the devices [from skimmers]."
• Inspect the card reader and the area near the PIN pad: Look at the gas pump next to yours to see whether the card reader and setup look different. Most skimming devices are designed to be temporarily affixed to the gas pump so they can be easily retrieved once the data is collected. If you think the scanning device doesn't look like it matches the machines' color or style, it might be a skimmer.
• Avoid using your PIN number at the gas pump: When you pay at the gas pump with your debit/credit card, you usually have the option to use it as a credit card or debit card. It is best to choose the credit option that allows you to avoid entering your PIN in sight of a card-skimmer camera. It also provides you protection against fraudulent charges.
• Keep an eye on your accounts: Always know your account balance and keep a record of your purchases. If you see unfamiliar charges on your account, report that information immediately to your bank.
Source: Osceola County Sheriff's Office
Tips to avoid becoming a victim of credit-card skimming