Credit card skimming at the dispensers has become a very public platform for the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). In a recent “tips and tricks to avoid being skimmed” video, TDA Commissioner Sid Miller advises consumers to use their cell phones Bluetooth to locate skimming devices in fuel dispensers. In the video, he states that “if you see a long string of numbers trying to connect, or letters, that is probably not good so stay away from that.”
Click here to view the TDA Skimming video.
According to Commissioner Miller, Bluetooth signals have a range of about 25 – 30 feet. News stations from across the country have used the video to run their own stories on the issue, encouraging consumers to use the Bluetooth method before pumping fuel into their vehicles.
What has ensued since, is hysteria among consumers causing an increased number of false positive skimming reports that have hurt gas station owners across Texas. The Texas Food & Fuel Association (TFFA) has received several calls from its members who have had customers contact TDA and local law enforcement, only to discover that the signal they received was from a nearby vehicle. Left in the wake of the aftermath are gas stations being shut down while they prove that there is indeed no skimming device in the dispenser.
“Skimming technology has advanced dramatically over the past few years, and while we share a common goal with TDA to protect consumers, the video contains misinformation that has created panic and lost business for station owners” said Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food & Fuel Association. Hardin commented that the problem with Commissioner Miller’s logic relying on cell phone Bluetooth technology to detect skimmers is the range of the signal.
“Within a range of 25-30 feet, gas stations can have anywhere from 1 – 6 fueling spots in use — this does not include cars stopped on the street or trucks delivering product to the store — with cars likely equipped with Bluetooth technology that is registering on cell phones, making consumers think that there is a skimming device in the dispenser right in front of them,” he added.
TFFA members from across the state have gone so far as to drive around and test the Bluetooth method themselves, and what they have discovered is that in most instances their cell phones have picked up a Bluetooth signal. Names in Bluetooth differ from Internet names, in that there is no central naming authority, names can be the same and are only limited to the creativity of the user.
“Yesterday I walked over to the convenience store located across the street, enabled my Bluetooth — stood there for 5 minutes — and within that time frame had a half dozen device names show up on my phone. One of which was from a car at the stoplight at an adjacent street,” said Hardin. “When no car was present, the device names went away,” he added.
During the 85th Texas Legislative Session, TFFA passed legislation that limits TDA’s authority and reduces a large source of its revenue by privatizing meter calibrations and fuel quality testing previously paid for by Texas taxpayers.
As Hardin understands, TDA inspectors have been given the order to assess penalties due to perceived notion that because HB 2174 has cut their budget.
TFFA is developing resources in response to the misinformation that has given consumers a false sense of security.
Hardin adds that if you have noticed an uptick in TDA fines and penalties in the last few months, please notify TFFA, with the number of instances, reason for the penalty(ies), and the amounts.
This article originally appeared on Texas Food & Fuel's website. Click here to view.