Credit card skimmers found inside Roseville gas pumps


A credit card skimmer recovered from a gas pump in Roseville. Inset image, a tamper-evident security seal.

A credit card skimmer found in Roseville. (submitted photos)

Your credit card information can easily be stolen with just one swipe at the pump

On Monday, March 18, Roseville police responded to a report of an internal credit card skimmer recovered from inside a Winner gas station pump located at 2163 Snelling Avenue N. in Roseville.

Credit card skimmers are small electronic devices sometimes used to fraudulently collect and transmit credit card data from customers (see section below).

Roseville Police Department Community Relations Coordinator Corey Yunke said an employee at the Winner gas station had opened the door to a gas pump to inspect it after he discovered the pump’s credit card reader was not working. When the employee opened the door he found the skimmer.

Following the discovery of the device, Roseville Police Detective Jen Engh personally inspected every gas pump at all 17 gas and service stations in the city. She found one more credit card skimmer of the same design in a pump at the Shell gas station located at 2164 Dale Street.  

Engh said there was a rash of external skimmers placed over credit card readers at gas pumps found around the metro in May of last year. To make them harder to find, she said criminals have begun installing the skimmers inside the pumps, where they often go undetected.

“I’ve used the pump where one of the skimmer’s was found,” Engh said. “I’m curious to see if my credit card number is on the skimmer’s hard drive.”

Engh said the department currently has no suspects in the case, but is awaiting results from a Secret Service forensics analysis on the skimmers. She said they are hoping fingerprints or other DNA evidence will help lead to an arrest. A federal report is forthcoming and will include any personal information recovered from the skimmer, such as names, credit card numbers and transaction times stored on the device.

In the meantime Roseville investigators are looking through countless hours of surveillance footage and spreading the word to residents about this new form of identity theft on the rise locally and nationally.

Internal credit card skimmers are small and at first glance do not look out of place inside the pumps. The ones found in Roseville are relatively small and resemble an eight-inch long plastic ribbon attached to a black mini flash drive (see photo).

Station owners frustrated

“The trouble with the damn things is they blend in with the rest of the electronic hardware in the gas pumps,” former President of the Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association Ted Brausen said.

Brausen owns a Shell service station in Arden Hills and owns a building that he rents to the owner of a gas station in Roseville.

Since he caught wind of the incidents in Roseville he has taken extra precautionary measures at his station. He checks the security of his pumps everyday and said Shell employees were out almost immediately to change the locks on his pumps, making each lock unique from the other.

Engh said this is something gas station owners in Roseville had to do as well. She said many stations would have just one or two keys that would open up all the gas pumps and oftentimes those keys would fit the locks at other stations as well.   

Brausen said he knows a business owner who found a credit card skimmer in a pump after the locks were changed. He believes the criminal(s) could not retrieve it because the key would no longer open the lock.

According to Engh this will not necessarily keep a criminal from gaining access to someone’s private information.

In fact, many of the newer models being found never need to be retrieved to collect people’s personal information, because they are wireless, including those found in Roseville.

After the device is installed, which reportedly takes all of a couple of minutes, a crook can be in a car up to 100 yards away, downloading the data onto a laptop computer’s hard drive.

They can then use that data to make purchases or make fraudulent credit cards in other people’s names.

Skimmers nabbed by police in Plymouth

This was the case with a California couple authorities caught in Plymouth last summer. Gohar Yesayan, 28, and her husband Sarkis Mkhsyan, 29, were pulled over by Plymouth police for speeding on Hwy. 169 on July 6.

According to the criminal complaint, the couple was stopped for speeding just after midnight. Mkhsyan did not have a driver’s license and a police dog detected the possible scent of illegal drugs in the vehicle, so the couple was arrested and their rented SUV with Colorado plates was impounded.

In the subsequent search of the vehicle police reportedly found a small amount of marijuana in the form of a burned-out joint, but what else they found was much more alarming.

The criminal complaint states that a search revealed a handwritten list of nearly 100 gas stations in the Twin Cities area. There were 12 credit cards re-encoded with stolen account numbers, devices for making fraudulent credit cards, four different cell phones, compact discs and flash drives containing hundreds of names and credit card numbers, credit card blanks, a cordless drill and five keys for opening up gas pumps.

Police later found homemade credit card skimmers at a Shell station at 9400 36th Avenue S. in New Hope, one of the stations on the list.

A March 28 press release from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office states that Yesayan and her husband were convicted of felony charges of identity theft. Yesayan was sentenced to 57 months in prison -- the maximum allowed for this type of crime -- less than a week ago and Mkhsyan’s trial is slated for July 8, when prosecutors will ask for a similar sentence. In addition to the prison sentence, prosecutors will be asking restitution of at least $1,000 for each identified victim, which could amount to more than $400,000.  An investigation revealed more than 450 people had their credit card information stolen from the skimmers installed in gas station pumps.

Yunke said the Roseville Police Department has not ruled out the possibility that the California couple may have planted the skimmers in Roseville.

“At this point anything is possible,” he said. “They had a list of nearly 100 stations around the Twin Cities. We’ll know more as our investigation continues.”

Another skimmer found in Ramsey County suburb

New Brighton Public Safety Director Bob Jacobsen said New Brighton was one of the first cities in the area where a credit card skimmer was found inside a gas pump. He said over a year ago a skimmer was found in a pump at Herman’s Mobile Station near Hwy. 8 and 5th Street N.W.

Jacobsen said they have not found any other devices since then. He said no arrests have been made, but police do have a few suspects.

“People keep coming up with new ways to steal. It’s unfortunate,” Jacobsen said.

Mounds View Police Chief Tom Kinney said they have not had any reports of skimmers in gas pumps in the city, but are keenly aware of this new form of identity theft and are on the lookout.

“I applaud Roseville for their efforts with this,” Kinney said. “It’s scary to see what these people are able to capture while going unnoticed.”

Ramsey County Sheriff Department Public Information Officer Randy Gustafson said his department has not encountered any credit card skimmers in gas pumps within the seven cities the department is contracted to serve, which are: Arden Hills, Gem Lake, Little Canada, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township.

Gustafson said the Sheriff’s office investigators are aware of the Roseville skimming incidents and are on the lookout for them.

He added that it is on the department’s agenda to raise awareness of the issue with storeowners and operators.

Use caution when you swipe

Roseville Police Lt. Lorne Rosand said there are a few precautionary measures consumers can take that will greatly reduce the odds of becoming a victim of identity theft at the pump.

Rosand said if the card reader is loose or looks out of place do not use that pump and alert the station’s management. He said many gas stations have tamper-evident security seals (see photo), which are colored stickers placed over the seal of the credit card reader at the gas pump.  If the seal is broken, do not use the pump and alert staff.

The safest way to pay by card is inside at the check out counter, so when in doubt pay inside with credit and debit cards or use cash.

Detective Jen Engh said most gas pumps in the Twin Cities are safe, but these crimes are on the rise. So far, she said seven gas stations in the Twin Cities metro have reported finding card skimmers inside pumps.  However, she said there could be dozens more across the city, since they are hard to detect and service station owners are just now becoming acutely aware of the problem.

“The most important thing you can do is to regularly monitor your credit and bank accounts,” she said.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.


Credit card skimmers are easy to come by

Skimmers are not illegal; in fact they are readily available online. A simple Google search will return hundreds of hits to sites where the skimmers can be purchased for around $200. So, why is this legal? Corey Yunke, the Roseville Police Department’s community relation’s coordinator said there are many types of skimmers and the skimmers themselves have legitimate uses. He said they are used at restaurants by food servers and at trade shows, for example. Unfortunately a growing number of people have been using them to steal credit card information at ATM’s and gas pumps.

“They are legal to own if used for legitimate business purposes,” Yunke said.

Yunke said skimmers are like “tobacco” pipes sold at head shops -- you can legally buy them, but as soon as that pipe is used to smoke marijuana or another illegal substance they become illegal. In the same way a skimmer is not illegal until it is used inappropriately. Using a skimmer at a gas pump to steal credit card information is a felony crime that is punishable by years in prison.

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