How to Protect Yourself at the Gas Pump from Skimmers
While you may prefer to pay by credit card at your favorite gas station, gas pump skimmers may be hidden that could steal your information. The thieves then use your credit card information for their purchases. Surveys have found that around 15% of people who fill their cars with gas report having been skimmed!
How Do They Do It?
In the past, gas pump scams were executed through sizeable plastic skimming devices placed over the actual credit card inserts. At first, the public was generally unaware of this. As people and station staff began wising up, new techniques were developed.
The most popular current method of credit card skimming is fast and easy. It is so useful that it’s relatively untraceable and can be installed within 20 seconds! The scammer will open up the gas pump using a key (master key) or tool and fit a ‘skimmer’ inside, which is not visible.
Why Don’t Gas Stations Prevent This?
For independently run gas station retailers, the answer is often money. Installing the EMV chip readers is expensive, as it often requires the entire gas dispensing machine to be replaced. Additionally, even if the EMV chip reader is installed, it isn’t 100% effective.
If users enter their PIN when using the EMV machine, it can be safer, but many are wary of doing this (as a skimmer garnishing one’s PIN number can be financially dangerous). VISA card reported that in 2016, gas station skimming crimes were reduced by 43%, but the risk still exists!
Another technique gas stations use to place ‘do not tamper’ sticker on the machines. These stickers will be color coded or holograms. Both Chevron and Shell offer these stickers free to their gas stations, to prevent skimming theft.
How to Protect Your Credit Card from Gas Pump Skimmers
- When given the option of using your card as an ATM/debit card versus credit on more traditional machines, choose ‘credit.’ This prevents skimmers from learning your PIN number details and withdrawing cash! It is generally faster and easier to reclaim incorrectly taken credit card funds.
- Go to updated gas stations. These locations will give you the best chance of avoiding skimmers, as cameras are installed and monitored. If a gas station seems to take pride in staying modern and clean, they will likely be more aware of preventing this kind of theft.
- Park next to a well lit, readily observed pump. It makes sense that skimmers typically choose pumps that are more discreet and hidden from view.
- Visually examine the pump and the credit card insert. Are there any tell-tale signs of tampering? While a plastic credit card skimming attachment is simple to spot, new methods are trickier to notice at first glance. Perhaps the machine looks as if it has been opened incorrectly.
- Also, check the keypad and make sure it is affixed to the actual machine and not placed over it. Have security stickers been tampered with or removed? If other machines have one and yours doesn’t, beware! Unfortunately, scammers can buy these security stickers online and replace them for free, without the gas station ever knowing!
- If you have time, pay inside the gas station, with cash.
- Download ‘skimmer scanner’ software (Android or iPhone) to search for tampered devices by location and potentially suspicious Bluetooth connections. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee safety and can be time-consuming.
- Check your bank statements frequently – preferably through your bank app or online account. You can also ask your bank to send you to purchase alerts.
- Although it is less likely, ATMs can also be tampered with. If you are using a stand-alone ATM, especially one that isn’t connected to a bank, you will need to consider if the machine has been altered to skim your card details.
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