Watch Out: Credit Card Thieves are Skimming Gas Stations

Fuel Pumps at the Gas StationCredit card fraud is one of the issues of growing concern for many consumers.

And, unfortunately, it’s easier than ever for fraudsters to get their hands on your information and then use it to make purchases, or to straight up withdraw cash from ATMs.

According to Consumer Reports, credit card fraud is a big money-maker for many scammers.

In fact, two men were recently indicted for setting up gas station skimmers at pumps in three different states. They brought in $400,000 between April 2012 and January 2013.

Wha?!?

How Does Credit Card Skimming at Gas Stations Work?


Credit card skimmers can be inserted right into gas pumps so that when you swipe your card, the information on the magnetic strip is copied.  If you enter a PIN and/or a ZIP code, that information is saved as well.

In order to insert the card reader, all that is needed is a master key (that often works for several gas pumps) and the skimmer can be installed.  Even better for the criminals is the fact that many of the skimmers don’t have to be physically removed in order to get the data.  Skimmers are equipped with Bluetooth so that the fraudster only has to sit near the gas pump (about 30 feet away) and download the information from the skimmer.

Once the information is downloaded, it’s an easy matter to encode it on the magnetic strips of counterfeit debit cards and then go to an ATM and start withdrawing cash.

Protect Yourself from Credit Card Skimmers

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Consumer Reports offers tips that can help you protect yourself against credit card skimming devices at gas stations:

  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card when you pay for gas.  That way, you aren’t giving away access to your bank account.  It’s easier to get rid of a fraudulent credit card charge than it is to replace cash that disappears from your checking account.  Plus, when you use a rewards credit card, you have the advantage of being able to get cash back or earn reward points.
  • If you do use a debit card, avoid entering your PIN.  Without your PIN, it’s harder for thieves to withdraw cash from an ATM.  Protect your bank account by choosing the “credit” option at the pump, even if you are swiping your debit card.
  • Check your bank statements and credit card statements for indications that your information has been stolen.  Check for charges that shouldn’t be there, and withdrawals that you didn’t make.

In the same vein as checking your statements you can also keep tabs on your credit report and scores.  Your credit report will show you recent activity on the accounts you have open (good for checking to see if fraud accounts have been opened in your name), while your credit score can show you changes in your score which could indicate fraud.  Companies like Credit Karma provide free credit scores and information on your credit.

The best way to protect yourself, of course, is to pay with cash.  Skimmers can’t get information about you if you don’t use a credit card.  However, cash can be quite inconvenient to many people.

Finally

Information thieves are getting more creative about how they obtain and use your data.  While gas station owners can help by installing tamper-resistant pumps, that is likely to be slow going, since the pumps can be expensive.

Instead, it’s up to you to take measures to protect your information if you want to reduce the chances that it is stolen.

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Published or updated September 16, 2013.

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