AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Department of Agriculture wants to create a skimmer fraud unit and asked the state legislature for the power to dedicate money to the idea.
The department will have to overcome opposition from gas station representatives before the budget is set at the end of May, however.
Skimming crime can take less than a minute, placing a small device in a gas pump. The victim filling up their tank might not know they’ve been robbed until they see their bank statement.
“The criminals are always one step ahead of you. So we have to continue to find ways to stop the electronic crimes that are going on,” said Dan Hunter, Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture. Hunter made the pitch Wednesday to the Senate Finance Committee.
Right now TDA licensed inspectors cannot open up a gas station pump unless they’re with law enforcment or if they get permission from the store owner. TDA wants the ability to do it themselves.
The gas station industry doesn’t like it.
“We do not support this request,” wrote Paul Hardin, the President of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, “Skimmers are a law enforcement iussue, and we believe that the reporting center should lie with a law enforcement agency, not the TDA.”
Hardin notes a recent change in Texas law that privatized gas pump inspectors — only requiring them to be licensed by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
“They are the ones auhtorized to open a gas pump and identify if a skimmer is present and they would notify law enforcement,” writes Hardin. “So why would TDA need to spend millions doing what is already being done?”
Assistant Commissioner Dan Hunter says the work simply isn’t getting done fast enough. “To pull law enforcement off their law enforcement duties, their public safety duties to come and open a gas station pump doesn’t make a lot of sense when we have inspectors that are already trained and know what they’re looking for.”
The proposed Senate budget contains $2.6 million to re-purpose 14 state workers for the job and 19 new vehicles if the unit expands. Lawmakers will give the final say-so on the budget at the end of May.
In TDA’s legislative appropriation request, staff asked to dedicate $1.9 million to help launch the Consumer Protection Skimmer Fraud Unit to “investigate and report to enforcement (local, state and federal) on skimmer fraud to reduce risk and protect the citizens and businesses that rely on having a fair and secure marketplace.”
The Department did not ask for any new money, instead only the ability to dedicate existing money to this team. The Senate’s budet proposal gives them more than they asked for.
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller created a video to educate Texans on how to avoid getting scammed.