The Effingham County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an attempt to steal from customers at a local gas station.
A routine pump inspection at the station turned up a skimmer, a device a thief installs inside a pump to lift information from customers’ debit and credit cards.
The ECSO is not sure how long the skimmer was inside the pump and has not yet received any reports of anyone locally losing money from it, according to Investigator Bobby McQuaig.
“We believe that this was probably the first one that’s been used (in Effingham), because we haven’t received any (reports) locally,” he said.
When a customer swipes a card at the pump, the skimmer copies the account data from the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. Debit card personal identification numbers can be stolen as well, giving a thief the information necessary to make counterfeit cards.
Slight evidence of tampering can sometimes be seen after a skimmer has been installed in a pump, McQuaig said. However, most people don’t take the time to notice.
“Everybody’s in such a hurry, they don’t look for that stuff,” McQuaig said. “In today’s day and time, it’s get in and get out as fast as you can. Most people pay at the pumps and go.”
Even with a trained eye, though, the damage can be hard to spot. The pump in Effingham had only a minor sign that the skimmer had been installed.
“The damage was an area about the size of a pencil eraser,” McQuaig said, “It wasn’t all that noticeable, unless you were really looking for it.”
Where people will notice the fraudulent transaction is on their bank statement. The ECSO encourages everyone to look closely at their bank account balances.
“Some people, the only time they look at it is when it comes in the mail once a month — and a lot of times it’s too late,” McQuaig said. “The quicker you stay on top of it, the better it is to help us try to solve that if we do have a complaint filed.”
The Effingham gas station victimized has a video surveillance system, according to McQuaig, but investigators were not able to collect good evidence of the crime being committed. The only camera angle was “all the way across the parking lot,” he said.
“They typically try to do it on the most-outer pumps on the islands away from most of the video cameras,” McQuaig explained.
The ECSO encourages local gas stations to install additional security cameras if possible. Another suggestion is to conduct frequent pump inspections, especially since several gas stations are not open 24 hours a day.
“We feel this probably happened when the business was actually closed,” McQuaig said.