San Diego

Secret Service Leads Task Force Trained to Fight Credit Card Skimmers

When the agency responsible for protecting the President of the United States tells you to pay attention when paying at the gas pump, you might want to listen up.

The U.S. Secret Service says there are more credit card skimmers out there than ever before, and the agency is leading a special task force in San Diego focused on finding them.

The San Diego Electronic Crimes Task Force is just 2 years old. It brings together local law enforcement, banks, research universities, and even big retail stores together to defeat criminal electronics that can fit in your pocket.

Last week, gas customers in Rancho Bernardo reported being victimized by card skimmers at the pump.

Special Agent Erik La Com said skimmers are more popular and more deceptive than ever before.

“The biggest advancements have been the addition of Bluetooth technology,” Agent La Com said of today’s card skimmers.

Bluetooth technology allows a skimmer to leave a device in a gas pump, sit in a coffee shop across the street and steal and sell your data without having to get up.

And one skimmer, according to agent La Com, can compromise hundreds of thousands of cards before it’s ever found.

Thieves used to simply slip skimmers over the top of card slots and pin pads, or plug them into computers hidden behind gas pump panels. They were tough for regular customers to spot, but not too tough for the trained eye. That’s all changed, Agent La Com explained.

“Gone are the days of waiting for someone to come back and looking for them to reenter a gas pump,” La Com said.

Jim Anderson, Special Agent In Charge of the San Diego field office, explained the Secret Service is training local law enforcement to fight skimmers, and has even partnered with UC San Diego to develop innovative solutions.

“As technology evolves, we have to,” Anderson said. “And we have several investigations here, but they reach around the world.”

Anderson’s advice for anyone who doesn’t want to become a victim is to use cash if possible, or pay inside the station. If neither of those can be accomplished, try using a pump that's closest to the attendant.

“ust be aware of your surroundings, but also know that your data is susceptible,” Anderson said.

Gas stations are expected to have their pumps equipped with the safer chip readers by October 2020. Until then, the Secret Service you should be extra careful.

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