This article originally appeared in the Sanford Herald on August 2, 2017 and was written by Larry Griffin of the Herald Staff
Chris Gilpin, the owner of local security tech company SignalVault, has made a career out of protecting people from identity theft. Now he’s turning his sights to a new area of that field- the practice of gas station “skimming,” where scammers can steal credit and debit card information when a victim uses a gas pump.
Criminals can accomplish that with just a tiny hacking device called a “skimmer’ they insert into inner workings of the gas pump, invisible from the outside.
From there, they can transmit data from hundreds of credit and debit accounts to their phones remotely, stealing thousands upon thousands of dollars.
But Gilpin’s new device will be an alarm system called Gas Pump Sentry that activates and emit a loud, piercing siren when someone tries to open up a gas pump to insert one of the small hacking devices.
“It’s a big problem with gas stations,” he told the Sanford Herald. “People have no idea when they’re being hacked.”
The Sentry device will also send out an alert through a phone app to gas station owners, alerting them of the skimmer having been placed on their pump.
Gilpin said the device is a more advanced, proactive way to stop gas station pump hackers –who learn about their crimes of choice on the “dark web” or other shady corners of the internet, enticed by the promise of thousands of dollars, and who come prepared with the right keys to open the pumps.
“If you have one type of key, you can open maybe 90 percent of gas pumps in the U.S.,” Gilpin told the Sanford Herald.
But with his new system, he said they would be able to make sure they remove skimmers “before they steal a single credit or debit number.”
Gilpin said they’ll be most focused on the areas criminals tend to hone in on the most – the most populated and frequently used gas stations along the major highways such as I-4, the Florida Turnpike, I-75 or I-95, as well as gas stations in major cities.
But they don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold, he said.
“I don’t think consumers should have to worry about protecting their identity at a gas station,” he said. “As a gas station owner, you should do everything in your power to protect your customers. But currently, I don’t feel they’re doing enough.
Statistics from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs support Gilpin’s assertion – the number of gas station skimming identity theft crimes was at a bit under 200 in 2015. Then it rose to over 200 last year. And in only the first seven months of this year, there have been 300 cases.
Gilpin and Aaron Keller with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs both attributed the rise to the fact that the crime is highly lucrative: it’s easy to make a skimmer from instructions online, the profits are extremely high and there is a low chance of getting caught.
Keller said his department is going everything they can to try and stop the skimming from happening.
“We do inspections to look for skimmers.” He said. “Law enforcement is beefing up their investigation. We’re increasing the penalties for this crime.”
But currently, only a minimum level of security is required of gas stations to protect against skimmers. Gilpin lamented that some of them only do the minimum – placing a sticker on the door of the pump that would signal if it had been opened, indicating someone had broken in.
Gilpin said that method isn’t close to perfect.
“The seal isn’t effective,” he said. “Criminals can buy similar looking tape and replace it after they’ve opened the pump.”
Hopefully, then, his Gas Pump Sentry will be able to fix the problem.
The Gas Pump Sentry will officially be rolled out to gas stations on August 15, Gilpin said. SignalVault will install them at participating gas stations for free and only require a monthly rental charge of $80 to $100 a month.
Gilpin said he hopes to have the Sentry devices installed in 50 percent of gas stations in the state by the end of 2018.