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Local gas pumps ‘vulnerable’ to theft devices

By Dave Larsen - Staff Writer

Southwestern Ohio government officials are inspecting area gasoline pumps after the discovery Monday of four devices designed to steal credit card information at Murphy USA gas stations in Moraine and Englewood.

Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said gas pumps at the stations where the illegal devices, known as credit card skimmers, were discovered were “vulnerable” to credit theft devices because they can be accessed using a universal key that is readily available on the Internet. The Dayton Daily News has learned there are about 140 such pumps at 24 gas stations in Montgomery County alone.

“My understanding is someone who knows what they are doing can pull up to that pump, open it up and insert this device in less than a minute,” Keith said Thursday.

The skimmers are attached to gas pump card readers to steal account numbers and personal PIN codes from credit and debit cards for the purpose of identity theft.

The skimmers, were the first to be found in Ohio, said Erica Hawkins, communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Weights and Measures, a state agency that tests devices including fuel meters for consistent measuring standards.

Hawkins said the agriculture deparment’s division of weights and measures trains Ohio county inspectors to watch for skimmers, which have been found in other states.

Two Washington state men were indicted last month by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Muskogee, Okla., on suspicion of identity theft and stealing more than $400,000 in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The indictment alleges the men used a skimming device to obtain people’s account information at gas station pumps in Oklahoma and Arkansas from April 2012 to January, according to court documents.

Keith said the skimmers used in that case were similar, if not identical, to the devices found in Montgomery County.

The U.S. Secret Service office in Dayton has launched a joint investigation with area police, said Todd Bagby, the resident agent in charge. “We are trying to do what we can to analyze the equipment,” he said.

The skimmers were installed inside three gas pumps at the Murphy USA station at 1911 W. Dorothy Lane in Moraine, and inside one pump at the Murphy USA station at 7735 Hoke Road in Englewood. The pumps where the skimmers were discovered are located on the outside lanes or rows at both stations, according to a letter from Keith’s office to area gas station managers.

The skimmers were described as small plastic boxes that measured three inches in both length and width, and one inch thick. They were painted black and connected to the pump’s credit card readers and keypads.

Keith said these skimmers featured Bluetooth wireless technology that allows the person who installed them remote access to the stolen credit and debit card information from a distance up to 100 yards. This made the discovery “particularly disturbing,” he said.

No fraud victims have yet come forward, Keith said.

Local law enforcement officials have checked all pumps at Montgomery County’s total 206 gas stations that use universal keys and no additional devices were found. Keith said the search has now been expanded to include more secure types of gas pumps, some of which have alarms that sound when opened.

Greene County Auditor David Graham said Thursday that his inspectors checked gas pumps at the Murphy USA station at 50 Hospitality Drive in Xenia, but no skimmers were found.

“Obviously, we don’t have the staff to necessarily go out and search every single gas station for this, but my inspectors are aware of the situation and now they will be looking,” Graham said.

Murphy USA officials did not respond to calls requesting comment. The Arizona-based company operates more than 1,100 stores in 23 U.S. states, including 42 in Ohio.

Clark County Auditor John Federer said his inspectors have found no skimmers after checking all gas stations with the exception of Speedway stores, which open their own pumps for inspectors. “It would be pretty difficult to get into those stations. They’re pretty tight with their keys,” he said.

Miami County’s inspector has not found any skimmers on area gas pumps to date, said Matthew Gearhardt, county auditor.

Butler County inspectors on Wednesday checked area gas stations with pumps that use universal keys after Keith alerted them about the problem, but didn’t find any skimmers, said Roger Reynolds, county auditor.

“We are always on the lookout for those. When we’re testing the pumps, certainly that is one of the areas we are checking,” Reynolds said.

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