Are you planning on traveling before the summer ends? If so, take note: Criminals are using devices called skimmers at gas pumps to steal your debit and credit card information. If you’re not careful, you could drive away from the gas station with an empty wallet.
What are Skimmers?
Skimmers are illegal card readers criminals use to steal your debit and credit card information. Criminals use the stolen information to create duplicate cards and clear out your bank accounts. A single skimmer can collect data from 30 to 100 cards a day with an estimated loss per card of about $600.
Newer skimming devices transmit stolen card data wirelessly via GSM text messages and other mobile-based communication methods, meaning thieves can receive real-time transmissions of the card data anywhere in the world — never needing to return to the scene of the crime.
Skimming: Growing Problem at Fuel Pumps
Skimming is a growing problem at fuel pumps. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a warning that skimmers are getting smaller, smarter, and harder to detect. Skimmers are increasingly being hidden inside gas pumps, and consumers have no way of knowing whether a skimmer is inside of a pump.
Gas stations are particularly vulnerable, because of their physical layout and the volume of their business. It’s relatively easy for criminals to place the devices inside or outside the pumps while being undetected. The pumps most likely to get skimmers installed are those farthest from the cash register or off in remote locations such as those off interstate highways.
To counter them, retailers have been using special sealing tape to seal the machines and help consumers identify when a machine has been tampered with. The problem is expected to diminish once consumers and retailers fully adopt chip technology and credit card companies allow retailers to require consumers to use PINs on transactions.
Looking at a pump, you’d never know if a skimmer was attached or not. When it comes to avoiding credit card skimmers, education is your best defense. Here are some tips to help you keep your information safe at the gas pump and avoid identity theft on vacation this summer:
- Check to see whether the pump and card reader have been tampered with. The gas pump dispense cabinet should be closed with the seal intact and the card reader should not jiggle.
- Don’t use a machine with a broken seal, the word “void” on it, or a raised or loose keypad. This is an indication the pump has been tampered with. If you see a machine with any of these, alert the operator.
- Use a pump closer to the store. Thieves most often place skimmers at gas pumps father away from the store.
- Avoid older gas pumps. These pumps are easier to break into and tamper with. Newer pumps have technology that prevents thieves from tampering with the pump.
- Use a credit card instead of a debit card to pay. Credit cards have better fraud protection. As a consumer it’s easier for you to get reimbursed for a credit card than a debit card and the money is not immediately deducted from your account. If you use a debit card, run it as a credit so you don’t have to enter your PIN number. If you use a debit card, always cover your hand when entering your PIN.
- Pay inside, with cash or a credit card, rather than at the pump. It’s the best way to avoid falling victim to a skimmer at the pump.
- Monitor your banking and credit card statements regularly and report any unauthorized charges immediately. Always have back up funds in case your credit or debit card are stolen.
What to Do If You’ve Been Affected
Consumers who suspect their debit or credit card has been skimmed should report it to their credit card company and the authorities. Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, consumers who report fraud like skimming within 60 days are not liable for stolen funds from their bank account. Many banks offer “zero liability” for such incidents and fully reimburse customers affected by this type of fraud.