Identity theft devices found on gas pumps in 7th Ohio county

Skimmers found on pumps in Warren County.Cuban crime rings alleged to be working in Ohio.


An off-duty state trooper said on Tuesday he spotted a pump at a gas station to which a skimmer had been connected on Ohio 14, just south of I-80, in Portage County.

Sgt. William Lee said he had just read the article on skimmers being found on two pumps in Warren County when he noticed a Sheetz station pump with a broken seal and wires like those one confiscated from a station in Mason last week.

“I look at the gas pump. The seal was broken. A cable was hanging out,” Lee said. “It was the same exact wire.”

Lee contacted the Portage County auditor and left a phone message with Sheetz corporate office. State troopers have no jurisdiction on private property such as gas stations.

Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito said she sent her inspector to the station, but no skimmer was found.

Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan said his office had found no more skimmers at stations in the county.

Nolan said his office had responded to several reports, but found no skimmers in place, and there had been no developments from the cases in Franklin and Mason.

“Law enforcement is still looking into it. We haven’t found any others,” he said.

Still, Nolan said he believed skimmers were being attached to pumps around the state.

“I’m positive it is,” he said.

He said the state had begun a coordinated effort, but smaller counties were ill-equipped to prevent the devices from being deployed on gas pumps in their areas.

“We’ve got weights and measures guys in the field every day. These smaller counties don’t have the resources,” he said.


Electronic devices known as skimmers — which steal personal information from gas pumps — were found for the first time in Warren County, bringing to seven the number of Ohio counties affected by this emerging form of identity theft.

Two state agencies are working together and with local authorities to catch those responsible, including organized Cuban crime rings, according to authorities.

“There seems to have been a pattern with a group of Cubans that have been hitting the Ohio area as well as Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky,” Frank Applegate, an investigator with the Ohio Highway Patrol, said Monday. “They’ve been coming up from Louisville, coming up from Texas, and hitting Ohio pretty hard, as well as surrounding states.”

Evidence of the Cuban rings working in Ohio has been gathered in traffic stops in recent months, Applegate said.

“They don’t stay in one place too long. They’ll hit an area and move on,” he said. “Or they run along interstates.”

Already this year, skimmers have been found by county inspectors in Montgomery, Butler, Faytette, Hamilton, Union and Washington counties. A statewide skimmer summit was hosted by Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith.

In the latest Ohio case, skimmers were found Thursday by a county inspector on pumps in Franklin and Mason, prompting a press release Monday by the Warren County Auditor’s Office.

Local police were investigating the new cases, both possibly involving the same suspects, but were so far unsure if they pointed to one of two Cuban crime rings linked to Ohio case.

The first skimmer was found in Mason at a Jo-Mart at U.S. 42 and Ohio 741, the other at a Sunoco station just west of Interstate 75 in Franklin.

“They are identical in the way they were made and attached to the gas pump,” said Rob McGee, the Warren County inspector who found the skimmers and attended a statewide training session in November in Columbus.

Both pumps victimized were older models that can be opened with a key purchased for $5 on the Internet, McGee said.

Applegate works with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Division of Weights and Measures — the agency charged with inspecting gas pumps — as well as local police and federal authorities focused on identity theft. He has built a database of skimmer incidents and photographs of the devices and other evidence.

He emphasized that state troopers don’t get involved in cases committed on private property, such as a gas station, unless consulted by local police.

McGee is the only weights and measures inspector in Warren County. He checks for skimmers while ensuring the pumps are dispensing the amount of fuel depicted on the gauges.

In Warren County, there are about 720 pumps and 80 gas stations, making skimming a difficult crime to prevent.

“I don’t think that we can stop them, frankly,” County Auditor Matt Nolan said.

Newer pumps are harder to unlock. Station owners can also use locks, tape or other theft-prevention techniques to prevent skimmers from being installed on their pumps. Consumers can avoid being victimized by using cash or paying inside the stores, rather than at the pump, McGee said.

“Our goal is to educate store owners and users,” Nolan said.

To guard against being victimized, consumers are advised to use credit, rather than debit, cards. This prevents the thieves from also making off with PIN numbers providing access to bank accounts.

While the devices are connected inside the pumps, broken seals can be a sign of tampering. Any broken seals or suspicious behavior around pumps should be reported to station owners or local police.

In addition, careful scrutiny of credit-card bills can help detect identity theft or credit-card fraud.

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