Cass County investigators were notified Friday of possible credit card skimmers in the Hughes Springs, Texas, area.
Investigator Cody Sartor of the District Attorney's Office, and a member of the Electronic Crimes Task Force of the U.S. Secret Service, was assigned to make contact with area gas station representatives. He then began checking the gas pumps at the stations.
"Every one of the stations complied and helped out in the investigation. They all assisted by consenting to my looking at the pumps and providing me with the keys to the pumps to perform the checks. They were all concerned about this happening in the community," Sartor said.
Sartor checked all of the gas pumps in the Hughes Springs area and only found one station, Hills Grocery on First Street (Texas Highway 11) to have the skimmer devices implanted within the pumps. Sartor removed the devices from both gas pumps at the store.
"The new owner of Hills Grocery has only owned the business for about a week. He was really taken aback by the news and is in the process of implementing methods to prevent this from occurring in the future. The reality of it is that the business is oftentimes a victim as well. They have no knowledge of the implementation of the devices, and it can really hurt their business. This is especially true with a new business owner," Sartor said.
Skimmers used to be devices that slid over the credit card reader mechanism and skimmed information from debit or credit cards. Modern skimmers are implanted inside of the gas pump and operate on Bluetooth technology.
"We have found that all of the skimmers we have located and investigated emit the same Bluetooth signal, HC-05. That's not to say that the signal name couldn't be changed and there have been reports that the offenders are sometimes changing them to something a little more inconspicuous," Sartor said.
Sartor suggests that before using a gas pump, motorists should activate the Bluetooth function on their phones and scan for nearby devices. If "HC-05" appears in the list of available devices, they should contact either the District Attorney's Office or local law enforcement.
The case remains under investigation by Cass County District Attorney's Office newly formed Cybercrime Division as well as the Secret Service. There are some indications that these skimmers were planted by an organized group of individuals from the metroplex area.
"I am honestly surprised that it has taken this long for Cass County to be targeted. Skimmers have been found in Tyler, Longview and Marshall. A few months ago a local highway patrol trooper made a traffic stop and located a number of skimmers inside the vehicle. It is believed that they were on their way to Texarkana," Sartor said.
If any owners or operators of gas stations would like to have their gas pumps checked, they can contact Sartor at the District Attorney's Office at 903-756-7541 to schedule a courtesy inspection.
Sartor completed more than 300 hours of training at the National Computer Forensics Institute in Birmingham, Ala., and helped launch the Cybercrime Unit, which is able to examine digital evidence across all mainstream platforms. Between Sept, 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017, the unit examined more than 13 terabytes of data that encompassed 24 investigations from local agencies, 11 of which were child exploitative.