CHESTER, Va. (WRIC) — After having their credit and debit card information stolen, several Chesterfield County residents are seeing a pattern: payments are being made in their name in Florida.
Brandon Bowers, Enon Church of God Associate and Youth Pastor, had his debit card information used twice in Thonotosassa, Fla., over the course of just six weeks. He received the first alert about a fraudulent payment on Nov. 30, 2020.
“I got a notification from my bank,” Bowers said. “It popped up at a gas station in Florida, so I hit ‘No’ and I had to call them.”
Bowers says he used to live in the area where his debit card information was used, so he was familiar with the location.
“I’ve definitely not been there in well over 10 years,” he said. “So they shut down my debit card and I went the next day and got my new one — no big deal — and then the same thing happened again last night.”
8News reached out to the Chesterfield County Police Department (CCPD) on Jan. 13 to alert authorities to the existence of possible skimmers at the Sunoco. Authorities say that was the first report they received of any such issues.
“On that date, one of our detectives responded to a gas station in the 10100 block of Chester Road and found a skimming device on a pump at the location,” CCPD Public Information Officer Liz Caroon said.
After having his debit card information stolen and used in Florida on two separate occasions, Bowers decided to share the news with his Chester neighbors, so they could be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
It turned out, Bowers was not alone.
“It was a whole ton of people who’ve had similar stuff recently,” Bowers said. “That was really my whole purpose of making that post, you know, is there a pattern out there, and what can we do to really figure that out?”
The more Chesterfield County residents shared their experience of having their credit or debit card information stolen and used in Florida, the more they realized their situations were similar. The majority of residents who shared their stories visited the same Sunoco gas station on the corner of Centralia and Chester Roads.
“It was really other people on that post, on the Facebook group, saying, ‘Well, I had similar things happen. Here’s some of the gas stations that I use,'” Bowers said. “One of them was one that I frequent as well.”
Through speaking with his Chester neighbors online, Bowers says residents came to the realization that they might have been falling victim to skimmers at the gas station pump.
“They — whatever the skimmer devices are — slide right over on top of the device that’s already attached to the gas station, and then they can be pretty easily pulled off,” Bowers said. “It’s probably a good practice for people, if they’re going to swipe their card, to just pull on the thing a little bit, and if something comes off, then you know that you just pulled a skimmer, and then you can alert the proper authorities from there.”
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that skimming devices can be inserted into ATMs or other terminals, harvesting payment information as consumers swipe their cards. Officials say skimming devices are relatively easy to detect “because they are often bulky or wobbly.”
However, other devices, such as shimmers, can also steal payment information, which is why the BBB says it’s important to monitor bank and credit accounts, consider switching to contactless payment methods, and be wary of a card getting stuck in the chip reader. The latter could be a sign that there is a shim inside, coping and storing payment information.
An officer from the U.S. Secret Service Richmond Field Office confirms that the skimming device is now in their possession and an investigation is ongoing.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim in this incident should contact police at 804-748-1251.
As for Bowers?
“I think I’m going to be using my digital wallet a lot more now.”