MICHIGAN CITY — Gasoline thieves climbed onto the roof of a Michigan City gas station and covered a satellite dish with aluminum foil, blocking the signal used to authorize credit cards swiped at the pumps over the weekend.
Blocking the signal allowed fraudulent cards to activate the pumps and fuel to be stolen, according to police.
LaPorte County Police Detective Andy Hynek said he's heard of satellite dishes being covered with aluminum foil to steal gas elsewhere but never locally.
“I don't believe we've ever had that before,” said Hynek.
Sheriff's deputies were called Friday to the Mobil station on U.S. 12, just east of the Michigan City corporate boundaries.
The owner, Syed Rizzi, told police he found two sheets of aluminum foil placed over a section of a satellite dish.
That prevented the gas pumps at his station from receiving the signal used to communicate with banks and other financial institutions on whether a card should be accepted or not accepted once swiped.
Police said the result was the pumps activating and an unknown amount of fuel stolen.
Rizzi told investigators blocking the signal did activate a backup computer at his station but the backup system does not detect if a card once swiped was stolen or fraudulent until after the purchase, according to police.
The thefts occurred sometime after the building closed, police said.
Rizzi told police he closes at 11 p.m. but allows the pumps to remain on during the night for card-swiping customers needing to gas up.
Police said the satellite dish is on the roof of the station and was accessed by climbing onto an air conditioning unit beside the building.
If such thefts become a growing trend, Hynek said he's confident technology will be developed to somehow prevent satellite communication from being interrupted in such a manner.
“I would say the security companies are going to find a way to combat that,” said Hynek.