SAN ANTONIO – Law enforcement officers are teaming up with local retailers to battle a problem that appears to be on the increase in San Antonio and across the country.
A workshop was offered Tuesday morning to help store owners better secure their gas pumps and customers' information from thieves, particularly those who steal credit card data using electronic skimmers.
"Between 2017 and 2018, we had a threefold increase in skimmer installs in San Antonio," said Lt. Marcus Booth, with the San Antonio Police Department.
Last year, Booth said police found more than 200 skimmers hidden in gas pumps across the city, compared to about 80 during the previous year.
The workshop aimed to educate retailers about the role they and the equipment that they use can play in prevention.
Booth said stores with older gas pumps often are the most vulnerable to thieves.
"If we get these merchants to change over their gear and use this encrypted equipment, it really solves the problem," Booth said.
According to the U. S. Secret Service, San Antonio's numbers are just an example of what is happening across the country when it comes to skimmer use.
Paul Duran, special agent in charge of the agency's San Antonio field office, said the costs of this crime can be astounding.
"We would estimate with 200 skimmers recovered, that's probably between $5 million and $6 million of potential loss," Duran said.
He said thieves use the stolen credit card information for their own financial benefit, either to buy gift cards or sell on the black market.
During the workshops, retailers were given an up-close look at some of the devices police have recovered.
Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, said merchants are often in the dark when it comes to that type of information.
Hardin said in addition to educating them, his organization is working on the enforcement angle -- changing some of the state's laws.
One bill, for example, would put the use of credit card skimmers on the level with organized crime.
"So it gives it that punishment a lot more teeth. It makes it a much harsher punishment," Hardin said.
All of them say consumers should continue to be proactive as well.
Duran said it is a good idea to check gas pumps for signs of tampering before using them and use pumps that are in well-lighted areas closest to surveillance cameras.
Another option, he said, is to avoid using cards at the pump altogether, by going inside the store instead.