BUTLER COUNTY– Oxford Police Department is fighting hard to make the public aware of Butler County credit card skimmers, which have been an increasing issue since November 2015.
Skimmers are devices which are put inside a gas pump or a self-service station and copy credit card information so it can be sold or duplicated on another card.
The first incident took place on Nov. 12, 2015. The skimmer was found at a Marathon station near Union Center Boulevard. Two skimmers were found at a Sunoco station on Germantown Road on Nov. 25. Another skimmer was also found on Union Center Boulevard at a Shell station on Oct. 7.
Skimmers can either be put inside or outside of a gas pump, but if they are placed outside they also utilize a false front to cover the device. With the latter, a consumer can tell that the pump has been tampered with by moving the front of the credit card reader – the false front will be held in place with only tape and it will move with light pressure.
All the skimmers found in Butler County have been found inside of gap pumps. These types are obviously more difficult to find. The kind kept inside the pump needs a key to access it. The responsibility falls on the station managers and owners to help keep customers safe.
A “skimmer summit” was hosted on May 18, at the Ohio State University Extension office in Hamilton. Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith, Ohio State Trooper Frank Applegate, and Butler County Chief Weights and Measures Inspector Tom Kamphaus led the summit, while gas station owners, store managers, police officers, public, and the media attended. Oxford PD brought Sergeant Ben Hool and Detective Shawn Terrell to the meeting.
At the time, there were only two inspectors with the auditor’s office and it was suggested that a more appropriate practice would be for managers and owners to inspect their own pumps. As a result of this summit and the knowledge it spread, three skimmers were found in Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky Walmarts.
Following the summit, another gas station skimmer was found, on May 25, at a Marathon Station on Dixie Highway in Fairfield, during a routine search. On May 27, the sixth skimmer in the county was found at a Marathon station on Cincinnati-Dayton Road in West Chester. This incident acted as the catalyst for Auditor Roger Reynolds, as he decided to hire three additional inspectors. The extra inspectors proved to be a good idea when a seventh skimmer was found on June 7, at a BP Station at Union Centre and Allen Road in West Chester Township.
The summit is not the only action the auditor’s office took to make people aware of this issue. David Brown, Chief Auditor with Butler County, attended Oxford’s City Council meeting on June 7 as, “part of [their] outreach to local government.” Brown mentioned that it is hard for station managers to tell when the pumps have been tampered with, but they can place tape over the credit card area. When asked where exactly to place the tape, Brown responded that it depends on the pump. These pumps can be radically different, with the only similarity being the keys used.
Brown clarified, “People might wonder how they’re gaining access — in a lot of cases these pumps are manufactured pumps that go to stations throughout the country. So as you can imagine, with a lot of keys for these, an owner needs to have multiple keys. So there are places online where stations would go and order these keys.”
This made the keys easy for the criminals to get.
Some pumps are more targeted than others since the keys are more likely to work for them. Yet, despite this, the criminals were able to get into a BP Station that has a secure security system, according to officials.
“These criminals are not stupid, they are quite sophisticated and that is what makes this a dangerous crime,” Brown explained another danger. “Generally credit card companies are absorbing the loss, which at the end of the day is going to cost all of us consumers increased fees.”
Being the public liaison, Brown had a lot of additional information to share about the issue. This sort of crime hits an area and then moves on, only to circle back later, he explained. This explains the gap in activity from December to April.
The auditor’s office looked for skimmers during this time, but there were none to be found. Now there are more and a need for education on this crime is obvious. When discussing ways to make a consumer aware if a pump is safe, Brown brought up the tape that can be placed over the pump: “In some cases people have been trying to put the tape on, but they’re not really even putting it in the right place.”
Every time receipt paper has to be changed, the tape would have to be cut through and changed as well, he pointed out. That is not only an extra expense, but it requires extra time and education. According to Brown, the tape needs to be placed so you have to break it to access the inside of the pump.
In a similar preventive measure, the Oxford Police have started placing stickers with their logo on the pumps. This sticker not only works like the tape, but it also shows consumers the police are investigating this crime — and it warns criminals that the police are taking this matter seriously.
There have yet to be any skimmers in town, but this crime has affected Oxford in a different way. According to Chief Jones, Oxford has had victims, but they were victims of skimmers located outside of town. He said that this could be part of the reason the criminals are hard to catch. With victims in Oxford, but their cards are being used in another state, jurisdiction becomes an issue.
The Oxford Police stickers tape over the access panel so criminals have to cut through it to install a skimmer, according to officials. When the gas station managers change the stickers, they are able to compare the inside of the pump to a picture the police left them of what it should resemble. If it does not match the picture, the manager should then contact the police.
Detective Terrell expects four out of seven of the Oxford gas stations to participate in using the stickers. The stations are not being forced into this program, but it helps prevent the skimmers and no station wants one found in their pumps. If found, people will be less likely to frequent that station, officials said.
Jones said that one of the reasons Oxford has not been hit is due to the location of the city. The other stations hit were off of an interstate, which obviously, Oxford is not.
But this is not giving the police a false sense of security.
“I think we’re always vulnerable to crime, but fortunately we haven’t been targeted,” Jones said — it is clear to see that there has been a rise in activity due to driving season. According to Jones, preventing this crime is not labor intensive and they are serious about their preventive measures.
“The plan is to prevent it,” Jones said. “So we never have it.”
The stickers are not the only measure the police have been taking. The Oxford PD sent out a letter to residents warning them of this crime and telling them what to look for. They have also been attending council meetings, but the problem is not many members of the public attend city council meetings.
“A lot of those statements we made and a lot of the public announcements we make there are because a lot of people go online and view those council meetings,” Jones said. The word is getting out and hopefully the more awareness the police raise, the less likely this crime is to hit Oxford.
The Butler County Auditor’s Office does suggest several tips to make getting gas safer: Stations should monitor activity closely, check inside the pumps often, and install better locks on every pump. Consumers should only use cash to purchase gas, report unusual activity, monitor bank and credit card statements, and notify law enforcement of any fraudulent charges. Chief Jones reiterated this advice and added, if using a card is necessary, use a credit card, not a debit card.
Auditor Brown summarized the severity of this crime: “We all lose by this theft.”