Gas Pump Skimming: What to Watch for This Summer Travel Season

As the summer travel season approaches, it's important for drivers to be aware of a growing threat at gas stations: credit card skimming.

Gas pump skimming involves the installation of small, hidden card readers on gas pumps that can steal your payment card information. This stolen data can then be used to make fraudulent purchases or even drain your bank account.

 

Gas pump skimming is a major problem, with thousands of Americans falling victim each year. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received over 1.4 million reports of identity theft, with credit card fraud being the most common type. And with more people expected to hit the roads for summer vacations, the risk of encountering a compromised gas pump is higher than ever.

So, what exactly is gas pump skimming, and how can you protect yourself while filling up this summer? Here's what you need to know.

How Gas Pump Skimming Works:

Gas pump skimming involves the installation of small, discreet card readers on the outside of gas pumps. These readers are designed to blend in with the pump's existing card slot, making them difficult to spot. When you insert your card to pay, the skimmer will secretly capture all the information stored on the magnetic strip, including your card number, expiration date, and security code.

Criminals may also install hidden cameras near the card slot to record you entering your PIN. With both your card details and PIN, thieves can then create counterfeit cards and drain your accounts.

Skimming devices are often installed by organized crime rings that target gas stations, especially those in high-traffic tourist areas. The criminals may return periodically to collect the stolen data from the skimmer. They can then sell this information on the dark web or use it to make fraudulent purchases.

Spotting a Skimmer at the Pump:

So how can you tell if a gas pump has been tampered with? Here are some signs to look for. 

Examine the card slot closely. Tug on the card reader to see if it's loose or jiggles, which could indicate a skimmer. Also check for any extra pieces or components that don't seem to belong.

Look for security seals. Many gas stations now use tamper-evident security seals on their pumps. If the seal is broken or missing, that's a red flag.

Try different pumps. If one pump seems suspicious, use a different one instead. Criminals often only target select pumps.

Pay inside. When possible, go inside the gas station to pay at the counter rather than at the pump. This eliminates the risk of your card info being skimmed.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection than debit cards, so your liability is lower if your information is stolen.

Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized charges, even small ones. Report any suspicious activity immediately.

Protecting Yourself on Summer Road Trips:

With the rise in gas pump skimming, it's more important than ever to be vigilant when refueling your vehicle, especially if you're traveling to unfamiliar areas this summer. Here are some additional tips to keep your payment information safe:

Use pumps closest to the station. Criminals often target pumps farther from the attendant's view.

Avoid pumps that look tampered with or have security seals broken. If something seems off, choose a different station.

Consider using a mobile payment app like Apple Pay or Google Pay instead of inserting your card. This eliminates the risk of your info being skimmed.

Cover the keypad when entering your PIN to prevent hidden cameras from recording it.

Monitor your bank and credit card statements closely and report any unauthorized charges right away.

By taking these simple precautions, you can help protect yourself from becoming a victim of gas pump skimming this summer travel season. Staying vigilant and being aware of the signs of tampering can go a long way in safeguarding your financial information.

Remember, gas pump skimming is an ever-evolving threat, so it's important to stay informed and adjust your habits accordingly. With a little extra care, you can enjoy your summer travels without the hassle of dealing with credit card fraud.