The humble gas station is a ubiquitous sight across the United States. We associate such facilities with the smell of gasoline and the everyday convenience of being able to pick up snacks. However, they may also play host to a hidden new danger that you’ve never considered.
Although police work hard to fight crime in all settings, gas stations have always been a target for criminals. This is for a number of reasons, including the late – and frequently round-the-clock – opening hours and the limited number of employees on shifts. These factors mean that gas stations are often doing business when there are very few people around.
Gas station stores are also usually small and easy to rob, and thieves can simply jump into their vehicles to make quick getaways, too. Plus, all this is exacerbated by the fact that many gas stations do a lot of transactions in cash, making them even more attractive to thieves.
And this is to say nothing of other related problems that affect gas stations and convenience stores – shoplifting, for one. Around 54 percent of shoplifters steal from stores like these on a regular basis, and juvenile thieves are an issue as well.
However, while gas stations have been the victims of criminals in the past, a new form of crime targets the customers rather than the business itself. This crime has been called “sliding,” and it’s a true menace. What’s more, this deed is mostly targeted at women.
The criminals, or “sliders,” look for SUVs stopping at gas stations – particularly those vehicles being driven by women. As the driver alights to pump gas, the slider quickly opens the passenger door. The crook then steals the likes of purses and valuables from the car’s passenger seat before making a rapid getaway.
Sliders seem to target women far more frequently than men. This may be because a woman will often leave a purse or bag on the passenger seat when they get out of a given vehicle. The slider then only needs seconds to grab the item and escape.
After seeing criminals carrying out thefts in this manner, it was the police who were the first to call the offenders “sliders.” The term is based on the fact that the thieves are able to rapidly slide in and out of vehicles – often without even being noticed. Meanwhile, the fact that SUVs and other taller automobiles block the view more thoroughly while the driver is pumping makes them more of a target, as the thieves can then hide out of sight below the line of the windows.
Unfortunately, it appears that the technique is becoming popular with thieves across America. There have been reports of thefts everywhere from Houston to Washington, D.C., to Miami. CCTV footage shows the method being used in much the same way in each case, though, and the victims rarely even notice what is happening.
One gas station owner in Dallas, Texas, noted that sliding is becoming all too common. He runs several gas stations and has seen the crime committed six times in just two months at one of his locations. He told FOX4News, “It happened in a matter of 15 seconds, and it’s just amazing. These guys are pros.”
Sliders are, furthermore, seemingly just as fast to spend their ill-gotten gains. One woman said that thieves had managed to spend $600 on her cards inside the 20 minutes that it took her to cancel them. That’s pretty alarming in itself.
However, these thieves aren’t necessarily violent or dangerous. Houston cop Jim Woods told ABC News, “They’re not looking for a confrontation. They just want the property because they know it’s being left abandoned and you’re not paying enough attention.”
As reports of sliding have spread, police have been at pains to remind drivers that their automobiles are not secure if they’re not locked. When pumping gas, it’s a good idea to lock your vehicle and roll up all of your windows. If you take these precautions, thieves won’t be able to steal valuables nearly as easily.
This isn’t the first case of an unusual crime targeting gas stations, either. Another novel criminal ploy is called “skimming.” This sees thieves attempting to steal credit card information by placing their own electronic device over the card reader on the pump. Once they have card details, the criminals can then start making fraudulent purchases with cloned credit cards.
As the skimming devices are made to blend in with the display on the pump, they can be hard to notice. Chris Gagne, who works for the U.S. Secret Service Criminal Investigation Division, told ABC News, “They can breach the gas pump and install [a device], and they can be there for weeks or months without being discovered.”
That said, in the event that a gas pump has been compromised, criminals can sometimes be caught returning to the pump to retrieve their card-reading devices. And yet, unfortunately, some skimmers are using more high-tech equipment that transmits information using Bluetooth. This makes such crooks much harder to catch.
The CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, Eva Velasquez, told CreditCards.com, “If thieves know how to compromise [magnetic stripe technology], that’s where they will go. It’s lucrative – people wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.”
And because it’s difficult to determine whether a gas pump has been hijacked, it’s best to play it safe and ignore the card machine on the pump, instead paying inside for your gas. It’s also advisable to pick a pump that’s visible to the attendant and which criminals are thus less likely to target.
Citgo Petroleum Corporation’s Kara Gunderson has, meanwhile, emphasized just how widespread the problem is. She told CreditCards.com, “The devices are being found at small merchants, large merchants, urban, rural, new and old convenience stores – so nobody is exempt.” So this is clearly a persistent problem.
Gas stations can, however, take precautions to minimize the threats of both sliding and skimming. Installing bright lights and security cameras tells criminals that they can’t hide in the shadows. Hiring more employees and security personnel, meanwhile, can ensure that neither customers nor staff are left vulnerable. And if these measures are wholeheartedly adopted, then gas station theft may just become a thing of the past.