The tools of the trade are tin foil and a ladder--and the prize is $4-per-gallon gas.
It seems to be the return of a scam that struck some years ago, but it has unfortunately returned recently to the Maryland/Washington, D.C. area. The service station dealers’ association in the region has alerted their membership that thieves are disabling satellite dishes with tin foil--disabling the station's link with the usual credit-card approval data--and then using stolen credit cards to purchase gas and cigarettes.
The thieves travel in groups and overwhelm the station’s staff while they gain access to the dish, which sometimes requires the use of a ladder. Once the communications are bypassed the thieves gas up or make other purchases en masse.
The activity, which has been confined to two specific brands, has continued even after some arrests last week.
About a year ago suspects were apprehended when an alert cashier in Newville, Wisconsin realized that other equipment requiring communication links was offline at the same time, and supplied descriptions of the individuals and their vehicles to police.
Methods employed to “foil” the scammers abound on the Internet. They include lubricating the exterior walls of the building to prevent access to the roof and the installation of razor wire. One station in Kentucky resorted to embedding razors in the roof in the area of the dish and nearly caught the bandit when he showed up at a neighboring business with bloodied hands he attributed to a sharp car hood.
As for the progress on the thefts in Maryland, the association is hoping that a greater awareness of the problem and the involvement of law enforcement may turn up a lead in the case. Right now they are looking for a large SUV that may be big enough to conceal a ladder.