The Scoop on Skimmers

You probably don’t think much about credit card fraud while you are filling up your car with gas. Yet ironically, it’s one of the times where your credit card is most at risk. Because over 37 million people refuel their vehicle every day, gas pumps are a prime target for credit card skimmers, discreet devices inserted into the card readers to “skim” the information for thieves while the transaction takes place. And a single pump with a skimmer attached can net the criminal anywhere from 30 to 100 card numbers per day.

So how do you spot credit card skimmers? It’s not easy to do, but here are some signs to watch for:

  • Look at the lock on the fuel pump door to see if it shows any sign of forced entry. Some doors are also sealed with security tape, which will be broken if the door has been opened.
  • See if the color and look of the reader and keypad match the style of the rest of the machine. This can be a sign that a skimming device has been placed over the original device.
  • Check to see if the card reader slot is loose or wiggles, or if your card does not slide in easily. These are signs credit card skimmers may have been placed.

The best defense is to avoid a skimmer altogether! Obviously, the easiest way is to go inside the station to pay for your gas. But that’s not the most convenient way, of course. So, if you must conduct your transaction outside, here are some tips to follow:

  • Choose a pump that is close to the building, preferably within direct line of sight of the cashier.
  • Pick a pump in a brightly lit area that tends to have people around often. Skimmers usually won’t install in an area where people are often standing.
  • Try to pump gas during the week. Skimmers tend to install their devices on the weekend when banks are closed so you can’t report a problem, then remove them before they reopen on Mondays, which is why you should…
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card! A stolen debit card number links the thief to your savings, checking, and any other bank accounts you may have, and could cause much more damage than a credit card you can easily shut down. Set up notifications and monitor your accounts regularly.

As chip technology becomes more prominent, it has helped reduce skimming, however, getting chip readers installed on fuel pumps has been a slow process, so they continue to be a heavy target for skimmers.