The gas is cheap but it’ll cost you

Every week I get emails from well meaning coworkers, friends and relatives warning me of nonexistent threats. I am the curmudgeon who sends the Snopes link in response to warnings that aspertame will give me a brain tumor or faux perfume salesmen will knock me out with ether in shopping mall parking lots.

Imagine my surprise when this morning I received an email mass posted to the company warning of a burglary scam that happens to be true:

I just found out my bank debit card was illegally used in the past two days. I filled my car up with gas on Saturday at an Arco gas station on Balboa and Sherman Way and apparently they got my card information after I finished that transaction and in the past two days they have hit my account for 480.00 dollars. They tried to run another transaction for 1080.00 dollars at an Office Depot in Carson but the bank security system suspected fraudulent activity and froze my card. This has been going on for a while at Arco Stations.

More on the debit card scammers after the jump.

A quick search turned up a few articles on the ongoing scam. The OC Register explains that three people are working together in Huntington Beach to place false keypads and cardreaders on ATM machines in Arco stations. They “skim” the information from the cards, print a fake card and then withdraw money. According to the Register, more than 40 cards have been produced and upwards of $75,000 has been withdrawn from people’s accounts. The story includes pictures both of the “skimming scammers” and the fake keypads. The same sort of thing has been going on in Costa Mesa. The Daily Pilot reported almost a week ago that there were 18 victims in Costa Mesa.

The LA Times has reported nothing, and it seems clear from my coworker’s experience that the activity has spread to the SFV. All of which leads me to my warning that makes this post sound like something you want to look up in Snopes: Apparently a lot of these false keypads are fastened pretty loosely. Before you swipe your card, you should try to jiggle the keypad. And if it looks brand spanking new, I’d be wary as well.

Thus endeth your warnings for the day. I will not even bring up the possibility of causing an explosion from using your cell phone at the pump.

7 thoughts on “The gas is cheap but it’ll cost you”

  1. Ouch. We got hit twice a year ago this last fall. By “We” I mean myself, my wife and 2 neighbors. All by using the same pump at the same gas station. Monrovia PD figured it out fast and got the guys involved.
    What they did is an employee on the night shift had a pal who manufactured an insert that fit into the credit card reader on the gas pump. They chose the pump not in clear view of the attendants window and out of view of the numerous cameras. The insert read your card at the same time the pumps reader read it. The data was saved and every few days the buddy came around and got all the info needed.
    Collectively it was nearly 2K in credit card fraud. Since it was a gas card it was only good at the same brand stations so it was easy to see who was using and when. From what I understand there numerous Monrovian’s hit on that one. We were lucky in that the gas card’s fraud department spotted it before we did and things got fixed and no charges to us. Those with debit cards had a much harder time getting money back from their banks.
    A final tidbit most out there don’t know a comprehensive homeowners policy covers some forms of credit card fraud. There are endorsements from some insurance carriers that are very inclusive. For those of you who are renters you can get the same coverage on a renters policy to protect your assets in the event of fraud.

  2. Fucking Arco! I always figured there was something wrong with it to make it consistently about 15¬¢ cheaper. In fact, when my husband got a Vespa they warned him that Arco gas is crap and will fuck up his scooter. So luckily, we never go to Arco stations (I figure if it’s no good for a Vespa it’s no good for a Mazda either).

  3. yikes I never pay attention to the card reader but thankfully I avoid Arco because they have a 35-45 cent surcharge on using my debit card. Unless you’re filling an empty tank it is often the same cost if not cheaper to visit the major (better quality?) gas brand across the street…and you can use a reg credit card too.

  4. Well, happily my coworker seems to be getting good results from his bank and I don’t think the experience will cost him, but it is the second time it’s happened to him as well.

    And Annika, my boyfriend says the rule of thumb is only buy gas from companies that have race cars. Arco = nope. Costco = nope.

  5. Travis,

    This message grabbed my attention.

    Last Saturday I wrote about my debit card being removed from my locker at work, they used my card at Yum Yum Donuts, and returned the card to my wallet in my locker. When I shared this story with my friends over dinner I discovered my Visa credit card was missing, seems when they returned my debit card, they stole my credit card.

    Again, they only charged seven dollars for donuts, so I have gotten off easy, or so I’m told.

    My losses amounted to just under fourteen dollars, just makes me so angry that someone would steal from me.

  6. Five and a half years ago, I watched a guy at a mall double swipe my CC Visa and didn’t realize what he did until the bank calls me the next day asking if I gambled online. I told them no, asked why, and they said that there were a thousand five dollar charges attempting to clear my card. I said ‘yes’ to what I thought was, should they cancel my card, but actually I said yes to cancel all of my cards, and had to wait a week for them all to come in the mail again, and verify them just in time for my vacation the next week after. I know better now to watch for double swipping and false swipe boxes, but then I did not.

  7. Arco is consistently cheaper because it’s refined in the US and not imported, by the way.

    But that “service charge” to use your debit card usually wipes out any savings you may have seen on gas, even before all this fraud junk.

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