When David Tchassani lived in Chicago, he heard constantly about people having their credit card information stolen at gasoline pumps. He learned how to spot a machine that had been tampered with and started avoiding any that raised red flags.
Now living in Hopkins, Tchassani, 30, said he’s still in the habit of giving the pump a once-over before filling up.
“Whenever I go, I just check and see,” he said.
Now, customers at some Eagan gas stations can swipe their credit cards without that worry, thanks to a Police Department initiative called SkimStop that offers incentives for stations that check their pumps for tampering. Officials are hoping the program, which launched last week, will catch on in other parts of the metro and maybe eliminate skimming here altogether.
Skimming uses small electronic readers placed inside gas pumps to steal credit card data. Numbers can be collected remotely, allowing thieves to make purchases or even create fake credit cards.
SkimStop is intended to intercept the process early. Gas stations buy red tape that shows whether a pump has been tampered with and give a record of daily checks to Eagan police.
As an incentive, the Police Department provides a bright yellow sticker for each pump to show the gas station is part of the program and posts a list of participating locations on its website. If a pump has been tampered with, it’ll be shut down and officers will come out to investigate.
Nine gas stations were enrolled in the program as of Monday afternoon.
The New Mart gas station on Silver Bell Road got its SkimStop stickers Friday. Owner Chuck Jacobs said skimmers haven’t been found in any of his pumps, but he’s become particularly aware of the threat after hearing about cases elsewhere.
“We’re aware of it just in the industry, so we wanted to take a proactive approach,” he said.
Law enforcement officials have said skimming is not widespread in Minnesota, but the state Commerce Department in January termed it an “emerging threat.”
Late last year, five people were charged with identity theft after allegedly skimming more than 150 credit card numbers from a gas pump in Richfield. They spent $21,000 in a day, including on gift cards at a Sam’s Club in Eagan.
Credit card skimming is difficult to track because the perpetrators typically don’t stay in one place for long, said Eagan police spokesman Aaron Machtemes.
“Say even we get a picture of them — we can’t find them because now they’re in Colorado,” he said.
SkimStop is banking on that transience. The hope, Machtemes said, is that thieves will avoid Twin Cities gas stations if enough locations crack down on skimming.
Lone Oak Market on Lone Oak Road got SkimStop stickers Monday, and assistant general manager Kristina Ellis started training employees to check for signs of tampering.
Ellis lost everything in her bank account six years ago after having her information stolen from an ATM.
“It’s scary how easy it is,” she said. “I think it’ll put a lot of people at ease, seeing that yellow tag.”