External Skimming Devices Found on Local Gas Pump

Debit/Credit Card external skimmers removed on 9/5/23 from a Buellton gas station (Photo: County of Santa Barbara)

Consumer Protection Division stays vigilant in their inspections

The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office/Department of Weights and Measures is warning of the dangers of “skimmers” after finding them at local gas stations.

On Tuesday, September 5, the department’s Consumer Protection Division was notified by a local gas station that an external keypad and card swipe skimmer were removed by a service agent at a gas pump in Buellton.

After receiving the call, the Consumer Protection Division visited the site and confirmed the two devices were overlay (external) credit card theft devices “skimmers”.  A sweep of the surrounding area and stations throughout the county was conducted by the Consumer Protection Division.  While no additional skimmers were found during the sweep, adhesive residue on the PIN pad and card swipe reader were found at several other stations countywide. Adhesive residue found on financial components of a fuel filling station or ATM can indicate that an overlay skimmer device was installed and removed from operation at that location.

Skimming devices can be internal or external and come in many shapes or sizes. The intent of installing these is always the same, to steal credit or debit card information, including PIN digits and ZIP codes. The majority of skimming device are installed internally. These intercept customer’s information as its being transferred from the sales system. Additionally, skimmers like those found recently, are installed externally. These retrofit devices are falsely portrayed as a true component of the machine and installed over the top or front of the original. They store the “skimmed” information and are later removed from operation to download that data.

Trends show that skimmers are typically installed at gas pumps furthest from the staff kiosk and where cameras are unlikely to be installed. External skimming devices target credit or debit card swipe readers as well as PIN pads. Customers are encouraged to use “tap” to pay when available to bypass the swiping readers. When not available, going inside the location to pay can also be a financially safer practice.

PIN pad skimming device
(Photo: County of Santa Barbara)

The Agricultural Commissioner’s Office Consumer Protections Division strives to “level the playing field” when weights and measures are involved in commercial transactions. As a consumer, you should feel assured that you’re getting what you pay for with regard to a product’s weight, volume, count, duration or advertised price. Commercial weighing and measuring devices, package content statements and advertised prices are regularly inspected to ensure their accuracy.

The Consumer Protections Division is taking a vigilant approach in inspection of filling stations countywide and are also providing education and outreach to local station managers. The skimming devices removed from operation are carried by County inspectors and used as a show-and-tell tool to display the level of intricate fraud that’s occurring. Filling station managers are encouraged to use security tape on their equipment and to check for manipulation frequently.

Residue left over after an external overlay skimmer was removed (Photo: County of Santa Barbara)

To report suspect equipment at filling stations or improper performance of equipment please contact: County of Santa Barbara Agricultural Commissioner’s Office/Department of Weights & Measures
(805) 681-5600

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  1. Stay away from World Oil at 5960 Calle Real, Goleta (at Fairview). Today I successfully bought gas for $57 there with my debit card. 5 minutes later I get an email that says:

    “A transaction made using your Wells Fargo Business Debit Card was declined.
    Card ending in xxxx
    Declined because an incorrect PIN was entered. Please try again.
    Transaction amount $175.00 USD

    I called the station and the guy was dismissive, said “it’s normal sometimes it does that.”
    I have NEVER had that happen before at any gas station.

  2. How do we find out what station this was? I just got off the phone with Chase after disputing some random and unauthorized charges to “PACWEST GOLETA” that started popping up a week or so ago. Was it the station nearby? Would be really helpful to know. Why won’t they give this info?

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