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Watch Out for ‘Gas Pump’ Credit Card Skimmers

It all started about two weeks ago with a phone call around 9 o’clock at night. David answered the phone – was silent for a while and then appeared to be answering a series of questions . . . all with a firm ‘no’. I was in the other room watching television – and needless to say was getting curious – so of course, I had to get up to see what was going on.

I gave him one of those ‘wife looks’ that translates to, “what’s going on?” He scribbled a note to me that the call was from Discover Credit Card and that our credit card had been hacked – swiped – skimmed, whatever – resulting in around $2,000 worth of charges. If you don’t have a Discover credit card, they are great. We’ve gotten calls from Discover before about activity that had been flagged, but this time – it wasn’t ours.

Once the activity was confirmed fraudulent, they immediately cancelled the card, removed the charges and scheduled to send us new cards in the mail. What we couldn’t figure out was where and how did this happen?? The cards hadn’t been lost – so there had to be another way to get our information.

After talking to the Discover people over the next couple of days, we felt pretty sure that the card had been ‘skimmed’ at a gas pump. If you haven’t heard of skimming – neither had we – it is a process that captures your credit card information by way of an electronic device when you’re paying for gas. We were told this is the ‘preferred method’ used by these crooks.

The Discover representative gave us a little information about what to look for and I did a little searching on my own, so I’m passing all of it along  so you’ll know what to look for next time you pump gas.

Internal Skimmer and Tamper Stickers

One means to gather your credit card information is via a device inserted behind the gas pump’s front panel (you will most likely not see the actual device), but you can check the edges along the front of the pump for tampering. Pay particular attention to the area surrounding the credit card insert. If it looks like someone has tried to open it, if it has scratch or pry marks, or has a broken lock – you may be at risk. While getting additional information on skimming, I read that most Shell stations use tamper stickers on their pumps.

If a tamper sticker is there, check to see if it is broken, has been lifted, peeled up or reads ‘VOID’. Most stickers that have been tampered with will show evidence of such. If you see any of these – go somewhere else. You may also want to report the problem to the authorities – not the gas station attendant.

External Skimmer

This is an external device literally attached over the real credit card slot that captures your card’s information as you swipe your card. If the credit card reader you are using looks different from other readers at that station – don’t use it. Since this type of device is a temporary ‘gottcha’ and most often held in place by double-sided tape, it is easily removable by the thief – so check to see if it pops off. If so, contact the authorities.

Pinhole Cameras

These almost invisible cameras are often used in tandem with the  card skimmer to get information off the back of the card or to capture the customer’s pin number (debit cards too). With this information not only can thieves make credit card purchases but also make withdrawals from your bank account. Yikes!!!

As with the skimmer, look for anything on the front of the gas pump that looks different from the other pumps. I read that these cameras are most often placed above the keypad. Recommended precaution is to use both hands when paying for gas. Use one hand to swipe the credit card; place the other hand over the top of the keypad to block possible camera view.

Electronic Pickpockets

I’ve heard about these devices for sometime . . . just not at the gas pumps. For example, the thief hides this device in a laptop cover and then scams information off your credit card while he walks within a few inches of you – no contact needed. If your credit card has an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) you are really at risk. These types of credit cards are those that allow you to simply tap the card to make a ‘quick’ purchase rather than having to swipe the card. Convenient – yes; safe – no.

With this much vulnerability these cards are being phased out by some issuers. However, if you own one of them, keep safe by considering the following:

  • Notice if anyone is walking too close to you – at the pump or anywhere else for that matter. Take note if they are carrying an electronic device of any type in their hands.
  • Wrap your RFID card in aluminum foil – no the aliens aren’t interested in it! However, this is a much more cost effective way to protect yourself than investing in one of those $50+ card carriers you’ve seen advertised.

After all this, I would guess the next time we buy gas, we’re going to look highly suspicious ourselves, if we go through all of the exercises above. But, after the hassle we’ve been through – getting new cards, verifying charges from our receipts, having to change credit card numbers on standing accounts, etc.  – I don’t really care. And if we do find ourselves distrustful of the pump – after pumping, we’ll pay cash. It’ll be much easier to go to the bank for more cash than have to go through the ordeal of getting a new credit card . . . . again.

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