Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announced that a recent statewide inspection sweep of gas pumps uncovered nine hidden credit card skimmers, which criminals use to steal consumers’ credit and debit card information.

The skimmers were found at stations in both the Twin Cities metro area and Greater Minnesota. Rothman said the Commerce Fraud Bureau is now pursuing criminal investigations in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.

“The Commerce Department is cracking down on these skimmers to protect Minnesota consumers against identity theft and fraud,” said Rothman. “We are working to make sure the state’s gas pumps are secure and customers’ credit and debit card information is safe. We know the threat is real, so we will stay vigilant and continue checking for these devices in our ongoing inspections of gas pumps.”

In March, the Commerce Department launched Minnesota’s first-ever inspection sweep of gas stations to protect consumers against skimmers, which are small electronic devices that can be attached to or hidden inside gas pumps to secretly record customers’ credit and debit card information.

During a three-week period, Commerce inspectors and investigators checked nearly 8,500 credit card readers on gas pumps at over 1,000 stations across the state. The inspections prioritized stations with older pumps, which are considered more vulnerable, as well as stations located on heavily-traveled streets and highways.

Rothman said the Commerce Department’s Weights & Measures inspectors are now looking for skimmers and any signs of tampering as part of their routine inspections of retail gas pumps for accuracy, safety and fuel quality.

The department has also started an outreach and education campaign with gas station operators, providing guidance on how to protect their pumps against skimmers, how to identify the devices and what to do if one is found.

Credit card skimmers at gas pumps have been a growing problem in other parts of the country. Earlier this year, alert employees at a suburban Twin Cities gas station caught three men who were trying to install a skimmer in a pump.

Rothman offers the following tips to Minnesotans to help guard against credit card skimmer fraud:

Spot skimmers at the pump

--Look before you swipe. Jiggle the card reader and check the keypad. Is it raised or loose? Inspect the pump for any signs of forced entry, including broken security tape, tool marks or scratches that may indicate tampering.

--Any pump could contain a skimmer. Pumps at the outer edges of a station are the easiest places to install skimmers without being seen by the attendant. But pumps close to the station get the heaviest traffic and criminals may take a risk to get a bigger payoff.

--See something, say something. If you notice any irregularities (especially someone who is not a station employee or an inspector who is opening up a pump), alert the station attendant.

Protect your plastic

--Pay with cash or a card inside, or select credit instead of debit on the pump. If you use a debit card, never type in your PIN at the pump. Using your credit card will limit your liability to $50, while stolen debit card information can give the thief direct access to your bank account.

--Monitor your bank and credit card accounts. Carefully review your statements and immediately report irregularities to your financial institution or credit card company. There is a limited time period to report fraud to avoid liability for unauthorized charges.