Posts Tagged: gas pump skimmers


30
Nov 15

Gas Theft Gangs Fuel Pump Skimming Scams

Few schemes for monetizing stolen credit cards are as bold as the fuel theft scam: Crooks embed skimming devices inside fuel station pumps to steal credit card data from customers. Thieves then clone the cards and use them to steal hundreds of gallons of gas at multiple filling stations. The gas is pumped into hollowed-out trucks and vans, which ferry the fuel to a giant tanker truck. The criminals then sell and deliver the gas at cut rate prices to shady and complicit fuel station owners.

Agent Steve Scarince of the U.S. Secret Service heads up a task force in Los Angeles that since 2009 has been combating fuel theft and fuel pump skimming rings. Scarince said the crooks who plant the skimmers and steal the cards from fuel stations usually are separate criminal groups from those who use the cards to steal and resell gas.

External pump skimmers retrieved from LA fuel stations.

An external pump skimmer is attached to the end of this compromised fuel dispenser in Los Angeles (right).

“Generally the way it works is the skimmer will sell the cards to a fuel theft cell or ring,” he said. “The head of the ring or the number two guy will go purchase the credit cards and bring them back to the drivers. More often than not, the drivers don’t know a whole lot about the business. They just show up for work, the boss hands them 25 cards and says, ‘Make the most of it, and bring me back the cards that don’t work.’ And the leader of the ring will go back to the card skimmer and say, ‘Okay out of 100 of those you sold me, 50 of them didn’t work.'”

Scarince said the skimmer gangs will gain access to the inside of the fuel pumps either secretly or by bribing station attendants. Once inside the pumps, the thieves hook up their skimmer to the gas pump’s card reader and PIN pad. The devices also are connected to the pump’s electric power — so they don’t need batteries and can operate indefinitely.

Internal pump skimming device seized from a Los Angeles fuel station.

Internal pump skimming device seized from a Los Angeles fuel station.

Most internal, modern pump skimmers are built to record the card data on a storage device that can transmit the data wirelessly via Bluetooth technology. This way, thieves can drive up with a laptop and fill their tank in the time it takes to suck down the card data that’s been freshly stolen since their last visit.

The Secret Service task force in Los Angels has even found pump skimming devices that send the stolen card data via SMS/text message to the thieves, meaning the crooks don’t ever have to return to the scene of the crime and can receive the stolen cards and PINs anywhere in the world that has mobile phone service.

MOBILE BOMBS

Scarince said the fuel theft gangs use vans and trucks crudely modified and retrofitted with huge metal and/or plastic “bladders” capable of holding between 250 and 500 gallons of fuel.

“The fuel theft groups will drive a bladder truck from gas station to gas station, using counterfeit cards to fill up the bladder,” he said. “Then they’ll drive back to their compound and pump the fuel into a 4,000 or 5,000 [gallon] container truck.”

A bladder made to look like it's hauling used tires.

A bladder truck made to look like it’s hauling used tires. The wooden panel that was hiding the metal tank exposed here has been removed in this picture.

The fuel will be delivered to gas station owners with whom the fuel theft ring has previously brokered with on the price per gallon. And it’s always a cash transaction.

“The stations know they’re buying stolen gas,” Scarince said. “They’re fully aware the fuel is not coming from a legitimate source. There’s never any paperwork with the fuel driver, and these transactions are missing all the elements of a normal, legitimate transaction between what would be a refinery and a gas station.”

Fuel theft gangs converted this van into a bladder truck. Image: Secret Service.

Fuel theft gangs converted this van into a bladder truck. Image: Secret Service.

Needless to say, the bladder trucks aren’t exactly road-worthy when they’re filled to the brim with stolen and highly flammable fuel. From time to time, one of the dimmer bladder truck drivers will temporarily forget his cargo and light up a smoke.

“Two or three summers ago we had this one guy who I guess was just jonesing for a cigarette,” Scarince said. “He lit up and that was the last thing he did.”

This bladder truck went up in smoke (literally).

This bladder truck went up in (a) smoke.

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13
Feb 15

Fuel Station Skimmers: Primed at the Pump

I recall the first time I encountered an armed security guard at a local store. I remember feeling a bit concerned about the safety of the place because I made a snap (and correct) assumption that it must have been robbed recently. I get a similar feeling each time I fuel up my car at a filling station and notice the pump and credit card reader festooned with security tape that conjures up images of police tape around a crime scene.

The security tape wrapped around this card reader at a Kangaroo station is intended to communicate that the credit card reader hasn't been altered.

The security tape wrapped around this card reader at a Kangaroo station is intended to communicate that the credit card reader hasn’t been altered.

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. A reader named Tyler recently shared the above image, along with his experience.

“I had my first encounter with tape across a gas station’s card reader the other day,” Tyler said. “I must say it led me to believe there was some sort of skimming device installed, as I have never seen this before. Further inspection showed it was actually a real attempt by the gas station to let consumers know if the device has been tampered with.”

Of course, if you merely need to re-affix the tape to something else, that's not a high technical hurdle.

Of course, if you merely need to re-affix the tape to something else, that’s not a high technical hurdle.

Tyler wanted to know what would prevent a scammer from simply removing the tape from one reader and placing it back on top of a compromised reader? Or, since most people probably wouldn’t know to look for the presence of tape around the card reader, how about just placing the skimming device right on top? I wondered that as well.

The tape carries the bold yet misguided assurance, “securing your identity.” However, I’m guessing this security device is primarily meant to serve as a signal to gas station attendants when and if someone has monkeyed with a pump card reader.

The tape on the reader is intended to protect against pump reader skimmers, like the one pictured below, which sells in underground forums for upwards of USD $2,000 and is designed to be fit directly over top of the readers they have at many ESSO/Exxon fuel pumps.

A gas pump card skimmer marketed and sold in underground forums for more than $2,000.

The seller of a gas pump card skimmer shows off his wares, which he sells for more than $2,000.

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22
Jan 14

Gang Rigged Pumps With Bluetooth Skimmers

Authorities in New York on Tuesday announced the indictment of thirteen men accused of running a multi-million dollar fraud ring that allegedly installed Bluetooth-enabled wireless gas pump skimmers at filling stations throughout the southern United States.

According to documents released by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the accused stole more than $2.1 million in the scheme. Investigators say the men somehow gained access to pumps at Raceway and Racetrac gas stations throughout Georgia, South Carolina and Texas and installed skimming devices like the one pictured below.

A Bluetooth enabled gas pump skimmer lets thieves retrieve stolen card and PIN data wirelessly while they gas up.

A Bluetooth enabled gas pump skimmer lets thieves retrieve stolen card and PIN data wirelessly while they gas up. Image: Manhattan DA.

These devices connect directly to the pump’s power supply, and include a Bluetooth chip that enables thieves to retrieve the stolen data wirelessly — just by pulling up to the pump and opening up a laptop. The defendants allegedly then encoded the stolen card data onto counterfeit cards, and armed with stolen PINs withdrew funds from victim accounts at ATMs. The defendants then allegedly deposited the funds into accounts in New York that they controlled, after which co-conspirators in California and Nevada would withdraw the cash in sub-$10,000 increments to avoid triggering anti-money laundering reporting requirements by the banks.

Skimmer pulled off a compromised pump in California.

Skimmer pulled off a compromised pump in California.

This blog has featured several stories about gas-pump skimmers that were Bluetooth enabled. What’s remarkable is how common these attacks have become (Google News and Twitter are full of local news reports of apparent gas pump skimmer attacks, like this one at a Pilot station in Tennessee last week).

Last year, I received some information from a police officer in California who is tasked with chronicling many of these incidents (this seems to have become something of a full-time job for him). He sent me some pictures of a few several more common gas pump skimmers that show up at filling stations in his state, including the devices show above right and below left.

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29
Jul 13

Don’t Get Sucker Pumped

Gas pump skimmers are getting craftier. A new scam out of Oklahoma that netted thieves $400,000 before they were caught is a reminder of why it’s usually best to pay with credit versus debit cards when filling up the tank.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Muskogee, Okla. says two men indicted this month for skimming would rent a vehicle, check into a local hotel and place skimming devices on gas pumps at Murphy’s filling stations located in the parking lots of Wal-Mart retail stores. The fraud devices included a card skimmer and a fake PIN pad overlay designed to capture PINs from customers who paid at the pump with a debit card.

A PIN pad overlay device for gas pumps. Photo; NewsOn6.com

A PIN pad overlay device for gas pumps. Photo; NewsOn6.com

According to their indictment (PDF), defedants Kevin Konstantinov and Elvin Alisuretove would leave the skimming devices in place for between one and two months. Then they’d collect the skimmers and use the stolen data to create counterfeit cards, visiting multiple ATMs throughout the region and withdrawing large amounts of cash. Investigators say some of the card data stolen in the scheme showed up in fraudulent transactions in Eastern Europe and Russia.

As the Oklahoma case shows, gas pump skimmers have moved from analog, clunky things to the level of workmanship and attention to detail that is normally only seen in ATM skimmers. Investigators in Oklahoma told a local news station that the skimmer technology used in this case was way more sophisticated than anything they’ve seen previously.

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