BERMUDA DUNES, Calif. -


"Went to the hotel and were surprised by what we found," explained U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Taylor.

Postal inspectors got a tip to search a hotel room after a man was arrested with several stolen cards.

"We opened the door there was a spotting scope with a video camera pointed out the window," Taylor described.

The camera was pointing at a gas station where the suspect in custody had placed a skimming device on a pump.

"He recorded 40 hours' worth of transactions, and he was also logging PIN numbers as he was watching his victims," said Taylor.

The suspect had all the magnetic strip information on each credit card, along with the PINs (personal identification numbers).  It was the perfect storm for identity theft.

"We see a lot of cash advances basically bleed the card for every bit it is worth."

Gas pumps are often a target.

"I always look for the stickers on the pump," said Brayton Williams of Beaumont.  "Proof that they've serviced it from their contractors."

But most people are not as careful as Williams, and skimmers inside gas pumps or ATMs are virtually indetectable.

"Probably I'd look at the pump, I guess," said Shane Venhaus of Bermuda Dunes, as he filled up his company vehicle.  "But I don't know how you'd know really (there was a skimmer on the device) unless there was something on there."

Surveillance cameras caught a grey Hummer pulling up to the Bermuda Dunes 76 station on Washington Street on March 29.  The credit card mechanisms in two gas pumps were damaged by someone police suspect was trying to install skimming machines.

Taylor offers these tips to protect yourself the next time you're at a gas pump:

"If you see something on there that doesn't look right - first of all - don't use it."

When using a credit card machine or an ATM that's outside, wiggle it to make sure it wasn't attached after-market.

"Skimming devices are made to mimic the original card slot mechanism," advised Cpl. Angel Ramos of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, "tricking the customer into thinking the mechanism is part of the machine.  However, if wiggled and pulled, it will usually come right off."

Report a potential skimmer right away.

"Many times the scammers are keeping close surveillance on their skimming device. If law enforcement can be notified maybe we can catch them in the act."

Postal inspectors say it's important to protect your credit and banking information.

"Anybody can take it and go, and within 48 hours, they've got your card charged up and will be to Vegas and back on your dime," warned Williams.

Local police also warn that skimmers can be disguised as the devices banks sometimes put on the outside of the bank to gain access after-hours.  So they advise giving those devices a second look as well, or try to use an ATM during business hours, when it's not necessary to swipe an ATM card to get into the lobby.