Credit and debit card skimmers have been a big problem in Lufkin for several years now. Fortunately, the Lufkin Police Department has always done a good job of letting us know where those devices have been located as quickly as they learn that information. We believe other local law enforcement agencies will continue to have our backs on that front, as well.
But some recent changes may make it more difficult to find out about compromised pumps elsewhere in the state.
For years, Texas motorists have seen stickers on fuel pumps directing citizens to report skimmers to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s office, which in turn alerted the appropriate law enforcement agencies and also let consumers know where the skimmers were found.
But state lawmakers last year transferred oversight of gas pumps out of Miller’s office, shifting it to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and also said information about the skimmers would now be confidential.
Miller talked to his attorneys, who said the new law didn’t apply to him, so he continued to release that information.
But new stickers placed on pumps earlier this month will urge motorists to call the TDLR, greatly reducing Miller’s efforts to notify consumers about the skimmers himself.
Miller’s spokesman Mark Loeffler said in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article that skimmer complaints reported to the agriculture department will still be investigated.
“And any time a skimmer might be found by the TDA, we’ll inform the public,” Loeffler said. “Commissioner Miller is committed to fighting credit card fraud — in fuel pumps or anywhere else — as part of our duty as the consumer protection agency for Texas.”
Meanwhile HB 2495, which went into effect Sept. 1, gives the Texas attorney general the power to govern skimming more, including creating a “fraud fusion center” and creating rules to help stores prevent skimming. It also states that information about skimmers, including where they were found, is now confidential in an effort to help police investigations.
We join other consumer protection groups in decrying this suppression of public information. And while we believe we’ll continue to be informed about skimmer locations by our local law enforcement agencies, we may think twice before filling our tanks when we’re out of town, as most of us do when we encounter the cheaper gas prices enjoyed seemingly everywhere but Angelina County.
In the meantime, Miller has offered some tips to stay safe from skimmers:
■ Pay inside with cash, if possible.
■ Use pumps closest to the store, where employees are most likely to see if someone is tampering with them.
■ Look before you pump and check for any damage to the credit card reader or security tape on the pump cabinet. Report problems to store employees.
■ Check bank accounts after filling up to make sure there’s no unusual activity.