Four men have been charged with skimming bank-card data from a south-side gas bar after police received a tip from a suspicious customer, Edmonton police said Tuesday.

Police said the customer first noticed a problem after he used his debit card to buy gas, but the sale was never charged to his account.

When he returned a second time for gas, he was able to complete the transaction, even though he entered the wrong PIN.

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Edmonton police Const. Elvin Toy shows reporters some of the bank-card skimming equipment seized last week at a south-side apartment. ((Janice Johnston/CBC))

The customer alerted police and they found someone had altered the card reader to steal data from debit and credit cards.

Police searched an apartment at 88 Avenue and 85 Street last Thursday and seized several PIN pads, two complete debit machines and other card skimming equipment. They also found lists of stolen PINs and corresponding account information that could be used to access customers' bank accounts.

"You can't tell one PIN pad that's been altered from another PIN pad," police Det. Bob  Gauthier said of the sophistication of the skimming operation.

The best way for customers to protect themselves is to monitor their bank records carefully, he said.

"Make sure you check all your accounts on a regular basis, and when you get your bill at the end of the month, make sure you go through and check them."

The four men arrested, and another man still being sought, face a variety of fraud and stolen goods charges.

Police say there may have been as many as 62 victims at the one gas bar, and the losses could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The accused have ties to a larger credit-card and debit-card skimming ring in Ontario and Quebec, police alleged.

Police offered this advice to retailers who want to protect their customers from bank-card data theft:

  • Keep PIN pads out of reach of customers until they need them.
  • Ensure the serial number of the debit keypad matches the serial number on the main unit.
  • Inspect debit machines for security stickers or evidence the keypad has been tampered with.
  • Run police security clearances on staff prior to hiring them.
  • Install quality video surveillance equipment to monitor sales areas.