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Eagan's effort to stop credit card skimming spreads

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. — As a first-time business owner, Dan Punjani has a lot of worries.

In June, the 29-year-old opened a Super Day gas station at an Inver Grove Heights location where another gas station had shut down.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, honestly, but I take it day by day," Punjani said. "There's a lot to think about."

So when an Inver Grove Heights police officer approached him last month with a voluntary program to prevent credit card skimming at his pumps, he gladly accepted the offer—and signed up on the spot.

"I had a couple customers that were worried about skimming, because a gas station down the road had it happen there and so people were starting to hear about it," Punjani said. "You have to look out for your customers."

Punjani and the other 12 gas stations in Inver Grove Heights are now participating in an effort launched last month by the city's police department to help deter gas station skimming, a crime that first popped up in Minnesota around 2007 and has surfaced with more frequency in recent years.

The anti-fraud program, dubbed "SkimStop," prevents would-be thieves from attaching or hiding "skimmers" on a gas pump. The small, nondescript electronic devices secretly record customers' credit and debit card information, which criminals can then use to commit fraud and identity theft.

The program was created by Eagan, Minnesota, police in March 2016 and has since also been rolled out by the Dakota County sheriff's office and in a number of other cities, including Plymouth and Elk River.

It works like this: Gas stations affix tamper-proof tape onto gas pump credit card readers. The tape peels in layers and reads "Void" if tampered with.

Gas stations must agree to inspect their pumps at least every 24 hours to ensure that the tape has not been compromised, and they are held accountable with daily logs that can be checked by police.

Stations are given bright yellow SkimStop stickers to put on the pumps to notify drivers that they can rest easy, said Lt. Sean Folmar, interim police chief for Inver Grove Heights.

Folmar said city council member Paul Hark asked him to implement the program after hearing about how successful and inexpensive it was in Eagan.

"It's going to cost us about $50 to $100 for the stickers ... so the cost is very minor," Folmar said. "It's mainly the man hours of doing the checks to make sure they are complying."

Skimming has become harder to detect as crooks have become savvier. It used to be that skimmers were placed only over a gas pump's credit card reader; however, now criminals are breaking into pumps or using universal keys that are widely available for purchase.

Criminals use wireless technology to download the stolen credit card information to a laptop.

"Skimming is a problem not only in Inver Grove Heights, it's everywhere," Folmar said. "So this is another proactive way of preventing it."

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