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Buyer beware: New state agency focused on credit card skimmers

Buyer beware: New state agency focused on credit card skimmers
Buyer beware: New state agency focused on credit card skimmers 03:58

TEXAS ( – Buyer beware - especially if you're paying with a credit or debit card. 

Reports of skimming are once again on the rise in Texas, according to a new state agency. The Texas Financial Crimes Intelligence Center works out of an old fire station in Tyler, 100 miles east of Dallas. The team there is focused on the bigger picture because Director Adam Colby says skimming is often committed by large, organized rings. 

"We've seen cases that start in North Texas and go all the way down to the valley," he said. "Most of the groups we're working are committing crimes in half the counties in Texas, and sometimes multiple states."

That's why TFCIC cases can involve a dozen or more police departments. The team is building big cases while stopping a lot of theft. "In the first fifteen months of operation, this organization intercepted, prevented or recovered $100 million in losses just in Texas," Colby said. 

Last year, state inspectors found nearly 400 skimmers in gas pumps across the state. Colby says that is likely less than half of what is out there because the skimmers are so easy to hide. "I can open up a pump and put in a skimmer in less than fifteen seconds."

The TFCIC trains inspectors with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to find skimmers in gas pumps, but there is no coordinated effort to look for the devices in ATMs or on self-checkout machines in stores. 

The I-Team found police reports detailing skimmers inside Walmart stores in Dallas, Fort Worth and Irving. We asked Walmart's media relations team about the reports and if the company is training workers on the issue, but the company has not responded.

Colby says skimming is not a small-time crime; most of the devices are built and installed by groups of foreigners who come here specifically because it's so easy to steal our information.

"We are now just a target for every bad actor in the world because of the way our financial system is set up," he said. "Primarily because we're one of the only countries left i the world that still use a magnetic stripe on our bank cards."

While millions of cards now have chip technology, they also still have the magnetic stripe, which is unencrypted. "So even if your transaction is going through as a chip transaction, if there's a skimmer... it's ready that magnetic stripe," said Colby. "So, it's still stealing the card number, your name, and the expiration date." And he says many skimmers have the ability to capture whatever digits you put in next, whether it's your PIN or ZIP code. "Any time you use your PIN, you're exposing that PIN to possibly being captured by a bad actor."

So, how do you protect yourself? Colby says the best option is "tap to pay." That takes the mag stripe out of the equation. You can also set up notifications through your bank or credit card company, so you get alerts for every purchase over a certain dollar amount. 

Colby also says you should try to never use a debit card, or if you do, choose the "credit" option. And if you do notice unusual charges, file a police report. Colby says it will strengthen your fraud claim, and it could help the Financial Crimes Intelligence Center build its next case. "There's really not too many safe places you can swipe your card anymore."

The FBI has more tips to protect yourself from skimming. 

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