by Linda Mumma

MODESTO (CBS13) — A high-tech skimming device discovered at a Modesto gas station duped dozens of people out of thousands of dollars.

“It’s disgusting. It is disgusting that people do this to human beings,” said victim Dawn Slade.

As soon as Slade and her friend Kellie Greene spotted the Circle 7 gas station in Modesto with fuel less three dollars a gallon they said, “Let’s stop! I’m going to put at least 20 bucks in my tank at that price!”

What they didn’t know is scammers had placed sophisticated skimming devices inside the machines.

“It’s never good, but especially during the holidays. It’s bad to be out that money,” said victim Melanie Morris.

Victims told CBS13 they had dozens of fraudulent charges to their bank accounts.

“There was just charge after charge. Three scrolls on my cell phone, but two full pages on my bank statement,” said Greene.

Greene said the charges were to Shell, Arco and Chevron gas stations in Fontana, Long Beach and other areas of Southern California.

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“They were all at gas stations. Every one of them and the same gas station multiple times,” she added. “Sometimes $125, other charges were for $100.35 and random charges for around $19. In total I was charged over $1,100.”

Slade considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“Thankfully it [the credit card] was declined so they didn’t get any money from me, but it was attempted,” she said.

Whereas Morris said the thieves, “drained my account to two dollars.”

Circle 7 manager Preet Kaur said this is the first time she’d seen such a sophisticated system.

“Whoever did this is technologically savvy. They’re good at it,” she said.

She said a technician discovered the devices deep inside six of the station’s eight gas pumps.

“They opened this whole black thing (panel). They took out the material from inside and they chipped it inside the pumps so nothing would be visible on the top, you have to open the thing to see it,” she said.

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Kaur said the scammers used Bluetooth technology to send the customers’ card information to a cell phone.

“And the hackers can sit within a mile or two inside their car and operate it with a phone, “ she added.

While Modesto Police investigate the crime, the gas station has placed signs on the pumps; requiring customers to pay with cash.

“Now we’re waiting for the technicians to come back and inspect that all pumps are fine so we can use our credit/debit machines again,” said Kaur.

In the meantime, customers said they plan to take precautions to protect themselves from falling victim again.

“It’s hard to know now when you’ll ever be safe,” said Greene. “I don’t like to carry a lot of cash, but at least for gas, I’m going to start carrying cash.”

Kaur believes the gas station was targeted by thieves because it often has the lowest gas prices in town, therefore it’s very busy. She said the fraud is hurting the business’s reputation because some people are posting to social media accusing the gas station of committing a crime.

“It’s not us,” she insisted. “We don’t want to cheat anybody. We’ve never done that. We’re operating a business here. We wouldn’t steal money. Our reputation would be at stake.”