Politics & Government

You’re not supposed to know where card skimmers are found. Sid Miller will tell you.

Skimmers on gas pumps can open up your credit or debit card to criminals, but state lawmakers made it harder this year for Texans to find out where they have been found.

They want to protect police investigations of skimmers. But they forgot to tell Sid Miller.

He’s the agriculture commissioner.

His department has had oversight of gas pumps for years — and his office has religiously sent out alerts letting Texans know where skimmers have been found.

But lawmakers this year transferred oversight of gas pumps out of his office, shifting it to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, amid Texas Food and Fuel Association frustration with Miller for boosting inspection fees and enforcement measures.

And they said information about the illegal devices was confidential.

Miller said he talked to his attorneys, and they determined the new law didn’t apply to him.

“Until the Attorney General tells me I can’t do them, and to stop doing them, I’m going to keep doing (skimmer) alerts,” Miller said Friday. “It’s in the best interest of the public.”

Officials with the Texas Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

“People want to know where to go and where’s the safest place to go,” Miller said. “They want to know what places have those skimmers.”

Skimmers are used by thieves to gain access to people’s debit and credit cards and often are found inside gas pumps or ATM machines.

Skimmers

Miller, who was elected in 2014, has long advocated for consumers.

He said his office still learns about skimmers because people report them to the 1-800 number on stickers plastered on gas pumps across the state.

The stickers let Texans know that each gas station must display an up-to-date registration on its pumps. And any complaints about gas pumps may be reported to the Agriculture Department’s Consumer Protection Division. The sticker also notes that all gas taxes are set by Congress and the Texas Legislature, “not by the Texas Department of Agriculture or Texas Agriculture Commissioner.”

Miller said he expects to keep getting calls from Texans about skimmers on gas pumps until the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation ultimately issues new stickers to replace the ones currently on pumps.

And he will keep sending out alerts to let Texans know where they have been found.

“They haven’t cracked down yet, but they’ll send me threatening letters and threaten to sue me,” he said. “But we’ll keep working for the consumers.”

Officials with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation declined a request to comment Friday.

Changing law

One new law went into effect Sept. 1 giving the Texas attorney general the ability to govern skimming more, from creating a “fraud fusion center” to creating rules to help stores prevent skimming.

It also states that information in reports about skimmers, such as where they are found, is now confidential. The goal of that provision is to help police investigations.

A separate law shifted regulation of gas pumps and gas quality from the Texas Department of Agriculture to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. This law also requires complaints about skimmers and fuel quality to be reported to the licensing and regulation department.

The agricultural department still has a location on its website for complaints. When someone clicks there to report a problem, they are redirected to the TDLR.

The Texas Consumer Association was among the groups upset with the law change that made skimmer locations no longer public information.

“I don’t agree with any suppression of public information, especially with something that will impact your credit,” Sandra Haverlah, president of the Texas Consumer Association, told the Houston Chronicle.

Alerts

In recent days, Miller’s office sent out two alerts about skimmers in Tarrant County.

One noted that three skimmers were found Oct. 18, on pumps #5 and #7, at the Metro Mart (Valero) at 3849 Alta Mesa Blvd. in Fort Worth.

The other stated that a skimmer was found Oct. 21 on pump #5 at Food Mart, 3939 West Pioneer Parkway, in Arlington.

“The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) looks for illegal credit card skimmers as part of our consumer protection responsibilities statewide,” according to the alerts sent out from Miller’s office. “If a skimmer device is suspected or found, TDA will contact local law enforcement authorities for removal of the device and subsequent criminal investigation.”

Miller’s office offers several suggestions on how to avoid skimmers:

Look for any damage to the credit card reader or security tape on the pump cabinet and report any problems to store employees.

If you can, pay inside with cash.

Choose pumps closest to the stores, where employees are more likely to see if someone tampers with them.

Check for any unusual Bluetooth signals with a string of letters and numbers because that might be a skimmer.

Keep your receipt and watch your bank accounts after filling up your car to make sure there are no unusual charges.

Anyone who thinks they’ve been skimmed, or believes they’ve seen a skimmer, may report problems to the Agriculture Department at 1-800-TELL-TDA.

Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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