WAXAHACHIE

A group of high-tech thieves has targeted customers at one downtown gas station.

Waxahachie Police detectives were first notified March 1 of suspicious credit and debit card activity at the Valero gas station located in the 100 block of S. Elm Street. Since that time there have been several other instances of fraud.

Waxahachie Police Det. Kyle Ranton stated the thieves have used an electronic device known as a skimmer to fraudulently obtain card and pin numbers. The information has been used to withdraw money at WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma.

“Skimmers are a lot of times put on the outside of the device. It captures information as your card goes into the machine,” Ranton said. "These devices are inside the machine and is plugged into the motherboard of the reader and the pin device."

Ranton explained the device receives power from the pump and its operation goes unnoticed by the customer and gas station.

Police suspect these particular skimmers either use a Bluetooth device to transmit the data, a laptop, or leave a storage device on the property to retrieve later. It is also believed keys to open the pumps were purchased online along with security tape to replace broken tape.

He noted the security tape has numbers logged by the station. After looking at those numbers, management realized they had been tampered with and switched out.

Police recovered devices on March 1, March 14, and March 19 at the Valero gas station, located at 100 S Elm St in downtown Waxahachie.

“We went back early in the morning on March 19 and found two of the pumps were malfunctioning. She (an employee) opened up the pump with keys that you couldn’t purchase online,” Ranton recalled. “We opened it up, and it appeared to have tampered with and somebody had attempted to pry the door open. We opened up there were no skimming devices on that motherboard. She called back that afternoon, and the pumps were still malfunctioning.”

Ranton explained there is a secondary door that gives access to a second motherboard in the pump. This door was found pried open with skimming devices attached but incorrectly installed.

With the keys, thieves were able to get in and out of the pumps in under one minute. After the pump door was forced open, it took approximately seven minutes to install the devices. No information was compromised on that call.

Ranton stated there had been 10 victims that have made reports directly to police but there could be more. People have also made statements directly to casino police as well. Victims have had hundreds of dollars taken in some cases. Police believe the suspect is not local and investigators are working to obtain identification from casino police.

Ranton spoke with casino police who noticed suspects taking thousands of dollars from multiple ATMs. Those individuals are spending about 15-20 minutes inside the casino before leaving.

Ranton advises people to look over the pump before they start a transaction. He encourages gas buyers to see if the security tape has been tampered with and check the card reader to make sure nothing looks out of place.

Theft from credit and debit card skimmers are not limited to Ellis County but across the country. According to the Nasdaq website during 2015 in Florida a sweep was conducted by officials with the department of agriculture turned up 150 skimmers.

Several steps that consumers can take to protect their cards at gas stations recommended by Nasdaq include,

• Paying inside.

• Be suspicious of broken security tape on pumps. If the seal is broken, the word void will appear on it.

• Pick a pump that is close to the building.

• Choose a well-maintained gas station to purchase fuel.

• Examine the pump.

• Pay with cash.

Nasdaq also suggests running purchases like a credit card even if a person is using a debit card. If thieves can crack the debit card, they will have access to a person's bank account. People can minimize their losses by calling the bank early, but the liability for losses on a credit card purchases is much more limited.

Anyone with information about this case can contact the Waxahachie Police Department at 469-309-4400. If you have information, but would like to remain anonymous, please contact Crime Stoppers of Ellis County at 972-937-7297.