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Suspects in gas skimmers case arrested

By J.R. TIDWELL / Editor

Two men believed to be behind the placing of card skimmers inside five gas pumps at Love’s Travel Stop in Clanton have been arrested in Tennessee, according to Capt. David Clackley with Clanton Police Department.

Clackley said the two men, both Hispanic and from Florida, were allegedly found to be in possession of multiple devices that were essentially identical to the skimmers pulled from the pumps at Love’s, even down to a numbering system written on the devices likely to differentiate between them.

The men were also allegedly found with computers used for collecting and storing ill-gotten information from the skimmers.

“In the past, major cases we have had like this one have been linked back to organized crime,” Clackley said. “This is no mom and pop operation.”

Clackley said the skimming devices the suspects used were sophisticated and were placed inside of the pumps, so there would have been no way for a customer to detect them from outside the pump.

He said a technician went to Love’s to do scheduled maintenance on the pumps when he found the first skimmer. A search revealed four more on different gas pumps. None were found on the diesel pumps.

“Gas companies are trying different techniques to prevent skimmers from being used,” Clackley said. “Love’s was taking precautions, but the suspects defeated them with countermeasures. As soon as Love’s found out about the devices, they reported it.”

Clackley said the suspects had the address for Love’s in Clanton programed into their GPS when they were arrested, meaning that was likely their next stop. He believes they were on their way back to retrieve any information the skimmers collected, which could have been done using Bluetooth by simply being next to the pumps.

“We are hoping they were arrested before any information the skimmers got could be collected,” Clackley said.

Since the case crosses state lines, the information gathered locally has been turned over to the Secret Service.

Clackley and Clanton Police Department have the following tips for using cards at gas stations to help minimize the threat of having personal information stolen:

  • Paying with cash inside, especially while traveling, is always the safest option.
  • If you are going to pay at the pump, a credit card is safer than using a debit card. Credit cards are generally easier to shut off, and the charges are easier to reverse. Having a debit card skimmed could lead to an emptied bank account.
  • If you must use a debit card, walk inside and pay the cashier. The card reader inside the store is much harder to tamper with.
  • Some lower-tech skimmers are placed over the pump’s actual card reader. Make sure the card reader is not loose before using it.
  • Check pumps before paying for any signs of tampering. Many gas stations now use tamper-evident tape that can alert a pump being opened, but be warned this countermeasure is not foolproof.

While rumors have made the rounds on social media, Clackley said no other police reports have been taken recently regarding skimmers found on pumps at other local gas stations.