The Paso Robles Police Department has taken 16 reports from people saying their credit or debit card information was stolen after they pumped gas.
Police believe a "skimmer" - an illegal credit card reading device - was installed at the ARCO station on Ramada Drive for about two weeks from late November to early December, Officer Ty Lewis said.
However, it was removed before police became aware of it, he added. Since the crimes usually aren't reported until a victim receives their bank statement, Lewis said, the criminals have time to remove the devices before they are discovered.
The skimmer was used to get debit and credit card numbers and pin information from customers who used a card to pay for gas at the pump.
Similar credit card reading devices were found in September at the Tesoro gas station at 6305 Morro Road in Atascadero and in April at the Five Cities Drive Unocal 76 gas station in Pismo Beach.
"These skimmers are installed by organized crime teams," Lewis said. "They've increasingly been installed in similar locations up and down the state."
The devices are installed internally at gas pumps and not visible to the consumer, Lewis said.
The criminals then download card data and pin information remotely, Lewis said. Police can't often pinpoint where the data was skimmed to until multiple reports are received and analyzed to find data patterns, he said.