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Credit card skimmers found at two West Michigan gas stations

Gas pump station
Anthony Inswasty via Wikimedia | CC BY 3.0

Two recent cases involving credit card skimmers at gas pumps in West Michigan hit headlines in August, and authorities say the devices are becoming more common.

Officials say three credit card skimming devices –two inactive and one apparently operational – were found inside fuel pump housings at a Dowagiac gas station earlier this month.

A second case involving two devices was reported last week at a Citgo station in Belmont.

Jennifer Holton is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. She says this type of device is nearly always invisible to potential victims. 

“The skimmers are attached to the inside of the pump. And they are homemade, in most cases," she says. "They just sort of attach to the inside. And then, once you put your credit card through, it can essentially make a copy of it.”

Skimmers work by capturing card data that can be transmitted to would-be thieves. The devices "skim" related credit card information as it's being processed for payment at the pump.

Holton says both August discoveries were incidental. One occurred in the process of an MDARD fuel quality check; the other was discovered by a third-party pump calibrator.

Holton says the MDARD’s Measures and Weights Division does not have jurisdiction over the devices – cases are referred to the Secret Service, in tandem with other local and state law enforcement agencies.

She says the best way a consumer can protect him or herself is by monitoring their credit and debit card histories.

“If they see something that’s off – see something that (makes them say), ‘you know, I don’t think I was there’ – they need to contact their banking institution or their credit card company, and start there," Holton says. "That is really going to be the first step.”

Credit card skimmers are unfortunately nothing new, but Holton says seeing them inside of gas pumps in Michigan is a first for her department.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.