By MORGAN FRISCH
Recorder News Staff
FONDA — Officials from Montgomery County want the public to be aware that separate skimming incidents have been reported at three different local convenience stores this month.
Montgomery County Director of Weights and Measures Raymond J. Borst reported the incidents. Earlier this month, he was contacted by WEX Fleet Card Fraud Department, which had noticed some strange activity stemming from a convenience store in Amsterdam.
Borst said he went to the location, along with Fulton County Director of Weights and Measures James Callery, and checked the gas pumps.
“The first three we checked actually had skimmers in them,” he said.
Skimmers are electronic credit card readers that thieves use to attempt to capture personal identification numbers from consumers, according to a release from the office of Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort.
According to the release, the skimmers were processed by the Amsterdam Police Department and then sent to the state laboratory for possible DNA testing.
Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick said in his almost 30 years, he has never recalled an internal skimming device placed on a gas pump.
“According to the experts, they are in and out of here within 30 seconds,” Culick said. “There were three at one of our area gas stations, they were at three different pumps. Once these are installed and they are up and running, (the person skimming) will sit near by with a Bluetooth device and as soon as your card goes in, they’re able to connect through Bluetooth and read your card and get your credit card numbers.”
Culick said experts say if someone turns their phone’s Bluetooth on near the gas pumps and they see a long string of numbers trying to connect, that’s a bad sign.
“It’s very likely the pump is compromised with a Bluetooth reader,” he said.
Culick said the easiest and safest method is to go inside and pay.
“Pay inside with your credit card or pay cash,” he said.
Following an alert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last week, Borst discovered a convenience store in Fonda where all six gas pumps had skimmers. The FBI was contacted and later that morning was on scene getting pictures and taking the skimmers into evidence, according to the release from Ossenfort’s office.
Borst said last Friday, an owner of a company in Amsterdam found six more and contacted the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“We’ve had three incidents, there’s been 15 skimmers found,” Borst said. “I just completed a sweep of the county and there’s nothing out there as of right now.”
He could not disclose the locations of the incidents at this time due to the ongoing investigation.
“What I can say is it appears to be the same group doing it because of some things we found on the skimmers,” Borst said.
Both Fulton and Montgomery counties have been doing routine checks for skimming devices since last year. Borst and Callery attended a regional Weights and Measures meeting in Queensbury in the spring and were notified from the state’s Division of Bureau of Weights and Measures that skimming had begun to occur statewide.
Since that point, the departments have been implementing routine checks of fuel dispensers and ATMs throughout the two counties.
“It was up to our discretion, and me and (Callery) decided to do it,” Borst said. “I talked to Matt (Ossenfort) about it and he said, yeah, go for it, and I kind of installed that into my routine.”
According to the release, skimmers are nearly impossible for the customer to see because they are put inside the gas pump.
“The county is following the proper protocol and working with the FBI and New York State to remove these devices and help keep people’s personal information protected,” Ossenfort said in a released statement. “The Department of Weights and Measures from both Montgomery and Fulton counties are working together to combat this issue and we are working diligently to increase routine checks for this type of nefarious activity.”
County officials said if something appears off or looks like it has been tampered with, alert an employee or call police. They also urged people to be cautious, stay alert and regularly check for any suspicious activity in personal bank accounts.
“If you feel skittish about doing (paying) at the pump as far as putting your credit card in, you can go inside and pay,” Borst said. “Most places take credit cards inside or cash.”