COLORADO SPRINGS — A trip to the gas pumps is already expensive enough, but investigators say it could cost you even more if a crook has tampered with it before you get there. News5’s Patrick Nelson spoke with Colorado Springs Police investigators about a local crime ring utilizing skimmer devices to rip off consumers and later gas station owners.
In April alone CSPD says it investigated seven different instances where they found card skimmers ripping off people at our local gas pumps.
By planting a skimmer device on or inside the pump, crooks are able to use the device itself, or in some cases bluetooth technology to steal our card information and make their own cards.
Investigators say they're then able to buy other merchandise and even go back to the pumps to fill up their own cars.
”Now it’s just easy to open up that front of that pump, stick that in there and leave, everything is bluetooth, so they can just sit there a half block away and just download that information to their cell phones,” said CSPD Financial Crimes Unit Civilian Investigator Deb Parr. “2,000 names within 30 minutes.”
Investigators say the suspects behind the gas pump skimmers like to target smaller gas stations and place the skimmers on gas pumps when few people are around.
”So from about 8 to 10 o’clock to early in the morning there’s nobody there monitoring what’s going on,” said Parr.
Detective Wayne Lambert says ripping off the card information of consumers is just the start of this scheme, taking News 5 inside a truck CSPD recently seized that investigators say is tied to this operation.
“It smells like strong diesel fuel. It’s real strong diesel,” Det. Lambert said.
It’s evidence of a hidden compartment…
”So they had covered this large tank in the back with this plywood barrier and once we took them off then we found the large tank. It’s about a foot thick, it’s about five foot tall and eight feet wide and it’s even got diesel in it now,” Det. Lambert showed us.
Investigators say the crooks are using our stolen card information to pay for hundreds of gallons of gas that gets pumped into hidden tanks like this one in trucks they’ve rigged up with hoses.
Inside the truck’s cab, investigators say they found more evidence of cycling through cards to make fraudulent payments.
”So instead of carrying multiple credit cards or debit cards now you have one fuse card that you can toggle between different accounts and present to a retailer for purchases,” said Det. Lambert.
“If someone is sitting at the pump what will they be seeing? We know the inner workings now, but what are they seeing out here?” News5’s Patrick Nelson asked.
“They are really just seeing somebody fueling their truck,” said Det.Lambert.
Meanwhile, hundreds of gallons of stolen fuel are going into the back of the truck.
“What are they really doing with this gas? You can tell they are not treating this gas in a safe manner,” noted Det. Lambert.
And investigators say this gas, paid for with your stolen card information is then sold on the streets.
“We’ve had this group under surveillance for some time and we have identified people who have purchased the fuel,” said Det. Lambert.
Ultimately investigators hope people will stop paying for this stolen gas. They’re also concerned if this doesn’t stop, we could end up with a disaster.
“We know of history where these large tanks have not been treated well and they have actually caught fire and blown up,” warned Det. Lambert.
Investigators tell News5 they believe there could be as many as seven different groups in the Pikes Peak Region operating this same scheme, stealing our card info and then thousands of dollars in gas.
In some cases, small gas stations report losing $20,000 dollars a week as a result. If you have any information to help investigators you are urged to call the Colorado Springs Police Department or you can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers and 634-STOP.
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