By Ava-joye Burnett

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Two men are charged with installing a skimming device inside a gas pump in Ellicott City, prompting Howard County police to warn drivers and station owners.

Skimmers are hidden illegal card readers attached to ATMs and gas pumps that take data from a credit or debit cards, including PIN numbers.

According to Howard County police, criminals sell the stolen data or use it to drain bank accounts.

Consumers typically don’t know their information has been stolen until they get their bank statements or an overdraft notices.

Skimmer technology has made the devices smaller and harder to find, especially when they are hidden inside a gas pump.

“We used to be able to tell people to look for things that were attached to the exterior of an ATM machine or a gas pump, but now they are actually able to make them tiny enough that they can get them inside the gas pump without being noticed,” said Sherry Llewellyn of Howard County police.

Last week, two Miami men, 51-year-old Mario Eduardo Castro Ramirez and 29-year-old Frank Alvarez Rodriguez, were charged by Howard County Police with possession of a skimming device and counterfeit credit card materials.

“A lot of these people who are involved move from state to state. once they get into an area, they steal hundreds if not thousands of credit and debit card numbers,” Llewellyn said.

Police say they were spotted by an employee at the Exxon gas station in the 4200 block of Montgomery Road placing a device inside a pump on August 9. Both men were released on bond and there have been ongoing incidents with skimmers in the area since their release.

Howard County police say they’ve arrested six people connected to skimming.

According to Howard County, to date in 2017, police have investigated 19 skimming cases in Howard County, which resulted in the recovery of nearly 30 devices (see full list below). Also, they say that in most skimming cases, suspects are part of a much larger network committing similar crimes throughout the U.S.

Police aim to educate employees of gas stations and local businesses and warn them about skimming. These employees are urged to look out for suspicious behavior and check their pumps daily.

Also, investigators are encouraging station owners to put security seals over the cabinet panels on their gas pumps.

“Yeah, it’s not a good thing, it kind of makes me worried,” Brenda Woll said.

“I don’t see how cameras out here don’t see people. you’d have to take the whole face off to put it inside,” Julian Heard said.

Detectives are reminding drivers to look for anything suspicious at the gas pump and follow these tips:

• Look for signs of tampering: If there is a security seal over the cabinet panel, is it damaged? Is the card scanner or keypad loose or crooked?
• Choose a pump within view of the gas station attendant.
• If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, if your card is compromised, the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account.
• Consider paying for your gas inside the station or kiosk.
• If you discover fraudulent activity on your card, contact your bank immediately, then call police.

Howard County police have recovered skimming devices in the following cases in 2017:

Jan. 16 Shell 6200 block of Washington Blvd., Elkridge
Jan. 23 BP 5800 block Washington Blvd., Laurel
Feb. 4 Hess 6300 block of Washington Blvd., Elkridge
March 1 Sleep Inn 10100 North 2nd Street, Laurel
March 2 Exxon 8200 block of Snowden Rvr Pwy. Columbia
April 29 Tower ATM 9000 blk of Snowden Rvr Pwy., Columbia
May 2 Exxon 8800 block of Centre Park Dr., Columbia
May 17 Exxon 8800 block of Centre Park Dr., Columbia
May 24 Turf Valley 2700 block of Turf Valley Rd., Ellicott City
June 9 Exxon 4200 block of Montgomery Rd., Ellicott City
June 12 Exxon 8300 block of Benson Dr., Columbia
June 26 Exxon 8200 blk of Snowden Rvr Pwy., Columbia
July 15 Exxon 10100 block of LPP, Columbia
July 19 Exxon ATM 7300 block of Washington Blvd., Elkridge
Aug. 2 Exxon (2) 8800 block of Centre Park Dr., Columbia
Aug. 10 Exxon 4200 block of Montgomery Rd., Ellicott City
Aug. 12 Exxon (2) 4200 block of Montgomery Rd., Ellicott City

Other Maryland counties have also reported the discovery of skimming devices.

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