Union Center Boulevard is a crown jewel in West Chester's development the past decade, with new offices, restaurants, hotels, a giant IKEA store, and several gas stations.
But those gas stations off the I-75 Union Center exit have become a popular target for credit card skimming thieves, who have made the area the number one spot in Butler County, and possibly Southwest Ohio, for card skimming attacks.
Woman gets gas, then gets hacked
Erin Pierce says she was hit by a credit card skimmer at one of those stations.
"I needed gas, so I did my normal routine, swiped my debit card, entered my zip code, left, and didn't thing anything about it," she said.
The Fairfield college student says she used that debit card nowhere else that week, as she uses that card only for buying gas. But within 12 hours, she says, someone started buying hundreds of dollars of electronics with her card.
"The next day I was in my bank account and I found I had 3 separate charges I did not make," Pierce said.
"They got me for $600," she said. And since it was a debit card (not credit), the money came out of her checking account immediately, leaving her no money to buy groceries.
We checked with West Chester police, who have not found any skimmers in the past month in the Union Center area.
But that doesn't mean the pumps were clear of skimmers, just that police received no complaints.
Newer skimmers go inside the gas pump, and are impossible to spot, unlike older skimmers from 5 years ago, that were clunky plastic boxes placed over the card reader.
Area a popular target
Butler County's Deputy Auditor David Brown tells 9 on Your Side Union Center Boulevard is a popular target for crooks rigging gas pumps, who zoom into town from other communities, place skimmers on pumps, then get right back on the highway and flee.
They either return later to collect data, or gather it via Bluetooth.
In the past two years, the Auditor's office has discovered illegal skimmers inside pumps at all 3 stations right off the I-75 exit. They are the:
- BP at Union Center and Allen Road
- Shell at Union Center and Mullhauser Road
- Circle K/Marathon at Union Center and West Chester Road
Some have been hit multiple times.
Inspectors found skimmers on pumps at the Circle K on three separate occasions, and in August 2017 the Auditor's office warned drivers buying gas at the Circle K to keep a close eye on their statements
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds last fall conducted a sweep of the entire county, and told 9 On Your Side at the time Ohio would be adding extra inspections to check for skimmers. "We've had a collective effort amongst the state auditors in trying to do our best in finding these skimmers and ridding these devices from the gas stations," Reynolds said,
No one at the three stations would comment to us.
However, the Auditor's office says stations are aware of the problem and have started taking security measures. For instance, the Circle K in recent months has added security stickers to their pumps to prevent tampering, that would show if a pump has been opened.
In the meantime, the Auditor's office suggests you:
- Use a credit card, not debit card at gas pumps, so that you can dispute a fraudulent charge.
- Use the pump closest to the store window, where the clerk would have an easy view of anything suspicious going on. Thieves prefer pumps away from the clerk's view.
- Or pay inside with cash or credit.
Erin Pierce's going to be a lot more cautious from now on, and is rethinking using debit cards at any gas station.
"You have to be really careful with where you use your card," she said.
She has now disputed the charges with her bank, and hopes to have the money refunded in the next week.
As always, don't waste your money.
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