HOUSTON – Credit card skimmers cost people, businesses and banks millions of dollars in losses every year. More than a third of those financial losses nationwide are from skimmers in Houston.
A new state law to crack down on skimmers just went into effect this month; but with it, consumers lost access to some valuable information. House Bill 2945 says we can no longer find out where law enforcement agencies are finding the devices that steal our credit card data.
Who passed the law?
State Representative Mary Ann Perez (D-Pasadena) authored HB2945.
It received unanimous support in both the House and the Senate.
What is the intent of the law?
HB2945 does several things to prevent and deter skimmers in Texas.
- Authorizes the Texas Attorney General to set up a payment fraud fusion center in Tyler, Texas where law enforcement agencies all over the state can coordinate and compare investigations, helping agencies track skimming rings and thieves that move from one city to the next. A spokesperson for the AG’s Office told Channel 2, “Details of the implementation of the center are still being worked out.”
- Requires gas stations to report any skimmers that they find to police within 24 hours.
- Requires gas stations to implement safety designs and features, a sort of best practices and standards, on pumps to minimize the risk of skimmers. These “best practices” will be handed down from the AG’s Office. They are still in the works.
- Gas stations that do not comply with the best practices or stations that fail to report skimmers can face fines of up to $5,000.
- Law enforcement is no longer allowed to share the names of businesses where officers found skimmers except to report the information to the AG, other law enforcement agencies, the payment fraud fusion center and any financial institution that may be impacted.
Why did lawmakers make the locations of skimmers private information?
According to Perez’s chief of staff, lawmakers made the concession to the food and fuel lobby that represents gas stations in exchange for their support of the bill.
When regulators like the Texas Department of Agriculture have released the names of businesses where they found skimmers in the past, the business owners say they lost customers for weeks and months afterward, even though the skimmers were removed.
“From their point of it, it was bad business to let people know that they'd been allowing skimmers in their pumps,” explained TDA Commissioner Sid Miller.
Investigators said calling out gas stations that are also victims of the financial crime isn't always fair. They need gas stations to work with law enforcement. When owners are worried they’ll be put on blast for self-reporting devices they found, they will be less likely to do so for fear of losing business.
How to protect yourself from skimmers at the pump:
- Pay inside with cash.
- Use the pumps closest to the gas station and within view of the station employees inside.
- Check for signs that the pump seal has been tampered with or cut
- If you frequent a gas station that offers a payment app, investigators say you should use it. When you do, your credit card data is processed through the station's main point of sale terminals and not at the pumps.
NOTE: This story was originally published on KPRC's website, Click2Houston.com. KPRC is KSAT's sister station in Houston.