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7:59 AM Sun, Dec. 16th

Skimmers double pain at the pump

Chris Hammontree, left, and Michael Morin, both of Kingman, gassed up in September at Safeway.

Photo by Bob Leal.

Chris Hammontree, left, and Michael Morin, both of Kingman, gassed up in September at Safeway.

KINGMAN – “Pain at the Pump” isn’t just referring to the price of fuel these days.

Crooks are deploying credit card skimmers – card readers that record and steal consumers’ credit or debit card information – at an accelerated pace.

More skimmers have been identified in August in the state than all of last year, according to the Arizona Department of Agriculture. So far, 52 skimmers have been reported at Arizona pumps, including 24 in August alone. Last year only 11 skimmers were found.

Scammers are using the skimmers more now due to the advent of credit and debit cards with chips in them. Criminals are trying to get as many numbers as they can before all consumers have chips in their cards, which are much harder to gain access to, said Mark Killian, director of the department.

He advises consumers to not use their debit cards at the pump.

Costing billions

“The crooks are costing us billions of dollars,” Killian said. He called the effort to stop the skimmers an “all-out war.”

Killian said a criminal can get into a pump and connect a Bluetooth-connected skimmer in seven seconds. Then then can sit across the street and gather people’s information.

The Division of Weights and Measures, under the Department of Agriculture umbrella, regulates pumps as one of their duties.

The Kingman area is not immune to the problem. The latest skimmer incident was Aug. 17 on U.S. Highway 93. There was also another hit on Highway 93 on July 13.

Four other retailers have been hit. The locations are West Beale and Alma Avenue on March 8; Route 66 and Interstate 40; West Beale and Lampton Avenue; and East Andy Divine and Byrd Avenue, all on Jan. 25. Individual stations are not listed because they are victims of the criminals, too.

The ADA says history shows that many times criminals will install skimmers at several fueling stations within a few miles of each other.

“These are brazen criminals working in fairly public places that are usually well lit,” said Killian, director of the ADA. “We need to put them out of business in Arizona.”

In response to the increasing number of crimes, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law this year to increase the penalty when criminals use skimmers for financial gain, which is now a class 6 to class 5 felony.

“People can always pay with cash to protect their credit and debit accounts. If you’re ever concerned about someone stealing your account information, contact your bank or the company that issued your credit card,” said Michelle Wilson, associate director for the Division of Weights and Measures.

Two Kingman residents, Michael Morin and Chris Hammontree, were filling up their vehicle Thursday, and they said they had been victimized by a skimmer two weeks ago.

Luckily, their bank, Chase, contacted them, and they didn’t lose any money out of their account. Apparently someone tried to withdraw money on their card in Ventura, Calif., they said.

Hammontree said that he uses his debit card locally, so he figures it had to have happened here in Kingman.

“We work as a clearinghouse of information for the state,” said Wilson. “Our inspectors, gas stations, police and financial institutions let us know when a skimmer is installed. We gather the data and share it with the others. That helps all police agencies, credit card companies and retailers keep up to date, even if the crime wasn’t to their company or in their city.”