- Ed Richter Staff Writer
Butler County is ramping up its efforts to thwart thieves stealing credit card numbers through skimmers installed on gas pumps.
The prosecutor’s office has joined efforts with the county auditor’s office and local police agencies to provide police more training about spotting illegal skimmer devices.
“We have a predatory class of criminals who are taking advantage of new technologies,” said Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser. “We want to give the public an additional layer of protection against the predators.”
Nearly a dozen skimmers devices have been found at various Butler County gas stations since November 2015. When a credit card is run through an illegal skimmer, the small device stores the cardholder’s data. Once the credit information is obtained, the thief can then sell the information or clone the credit card.
“One reason why we’re being so diligent is that Butler County is the most targeted because of its location on I-75,” Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds said. “That’s where the criminal activity is happening — on a path from Michigan to Florida.”
Gmoser is encouraging police officers to stop at gas stations as part of their regular patrols. His office also plans to release a training video that shows police officers how to check for tampering at gas pumps.
The training video, which cost $1,500 to produce, “is a bargain and will be a big benefit for law enforcement,” Gmoser said. Funds to produce the video came from forfeitures placed in the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
“The costs are being paid by criminals to be used against criminals …” he said.
Stores and gas stations don’t like to report these incidents because they don’t want the bad publicity, according to Susan Monin, community outreach director for the prosecutor’s office.
Butler County police chiefs contacted by the Journal-News were supportive of Gmoser’s initiative and don’t think it will be an extra burden for patrol officers.
“We see this as another tool so that officers can recognize a skimmer and take it out of use,” Fairfield police Chief Mike Dickey said. “Without the training, it’s like opening your home computer and recognizing something that doesn’t belong there.”
“If you’ve ever had your credit card information stolen, you know how aggravating and serious these type of thefts are,” Hamilton police Chief Craig Bucheit said, adding that his department looks forward to working with the prosecutor’s office and local businesses “to help protect consumers.”
In Oxford, police officers have already started increasing their efforts.
In addition to weekly checks during day and night patrol shifts, police have also photographed the inside of gas pumps to show gas station employees what they should look like and what a skimmer might look like, according to Oxford Police Chief John Jones.
Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said educating business owners is an important part of the initiative.
“I don’t think it’s a burden at all,” he said. “But educating owners and managers of those businesses would be a good way to start the prevention efforts.”
The Butler County Auditor’s Office is also checking the pumps more regularly.
Reynolds increased the number of inspectors in the Weights and Measurements Division in an effort to crack down on the illegal devices. He said his employees are checking almost all 120 gas stations in the county at least once a week.
“Butler County has been very proactive,” Reynolds said about efforts to weed out skimmers. “No other county is out checking pumps on a weekly basis.”
Consumers will continue to be vulnerable to credit card theft because Visa and MasterCard have postponed until 2020 a deadline to have chip card technology installed on all fuel pumps, Reynolds told the Journal-News last month.
The costs to shift over to the new chip cards are prohibitive for gas stations. One industry consultant estimated the total cost to upgrade U.S. fuel pumps to chip cards could hit $6 billion. Stations needing entirely new pumps could be out $50,000 to $80,000 per location.
“The consumers need protection from these predators,” Gmoser said. “We wouldn’t be doing it, but the change to chip technology has been moved back to 2020.”