Macon police: Oops, credit card skimmer turns out to be heater

Macon police say they mistakenly identified a device used to warm credit scanners at gas pumps as a “skimmer” used by potential identity thieves.

This week, police issued a warning about skimmers discovered on pumps at the Flash Foods station on Vineville Avenue.

Skimmers have the capability of copying customer information from credit cards and debit cards.

“After our investigation, we determined they weren’t actually skimming devices,” Macon police detective Dennis Terry said.

“This particular device was a heater. But the public still needs to be on guard.”

Flash Foods officials say the confusion started when a customer contacted the service station about a recent unauthorized credit sale.

“We became concerned because of recent rumors of skimming devices being placed on gas pumps. Therefore, we contacted our maintenance department and had the technician go to the store and check the pumps,” Flash Foods spokesman Dale Williams said in a statement Wednesday. “The technician did find an unfamiliar device.”

What the technician found Monday were white, handheld panels with bulb attachments, not resembling a traditional credit card scanner or skimmer.

Terry said the devices also were unfamiliar to Macon police.

“These we haven’t seen,” he said. “This is the first time.”

Working with employees at Gilbarco Veeder-Root, the manufacturer of the Flash Foods pumps, police determined the nature of the previously reported “suspicious devices.”

John Dounoucos, a Gilbarco spokeswoman, said the company also designs the card-reader heater.

“This is an option that can be purchased on any Gilbarco dispenser and is used in areas that are subject to blowing snowing and/or freezing rain. The device melts any accumulation of snow or ice that may build up in the card reader so customers will still be able to use their cards in those conditions,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Williams said Flash Foods purchased the Vineville location from a convenience store chain that installed the heaters on all of the site’s pumps.

“Because protecting our customers is very important to Flash Foods, our maintenance personnel have inspected all fuel pumps at the Flash Foods locations in this area and no (other) unidentified equipment was found on the pumps,” he said.

However, Terry advises residents to remain on the alert.

“What the public needs to be aware of is that there are devices out there used to steal your identity and your card’s number. Fortunately, this incident wasn’t one of those,” he said. “If you’re going to use your debit card’s PIN number, try to be limited on how you use it, when you use it and where.”

He said police continue to investigate the possibility of skimmers in the region.

“We haven’t had any reports come in the Middle Georgia area. Right now, it’s central to Atlanta and Florida. Some of these devices you can’t really see unless you’re really looking for them. We’re not sure if they’re being sold online or on the street,” he said.

“Most gas station attendants or anywhere that has an ATM machine needs to periodically check and make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.”

Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Paul Edwards said there have been no recent reports of skimmers in the county.

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, 744-4347.