How to protect yourself from gas pump skimmers

Thieves are getting smarter these days

It seems that every other day we hear about police finding a credit card skimmer installed on or inside a gas pump. It's made many drivers paranoid about swiping their card when filling up their car.

But is there a simple solution to make it almost impossible to install a card skimming device?

Some station owners think so, but it appears the crooks may already be a step ahead of them.

Drivers worry every time they fill up

Every time you pull up to a gas pump and swipe your credit or debit card, there's a risk you are handing your card number to a scammer who installed a card skimmer.

Carl Buckholtz said he worries about it every time he fills up his Harley motorcycle, to the point where he inspects the pump.

"I usually pull on the slot to see if anything's attached because it's such a big epidemic," he said.

Unfortunately, you can't see all skimmers because some thieves open the pump with a master key and install the skimmers inside, something they can do in under 20 seconds.

Fewer scammers are placing a large plastic skimmer over the card slot, as those are easy to spot, and station staffers now look for them.

Some gas chains fight back

But some stations, like the T/A chain of highway fuel stops, now put tamper-proof stickers over all openings to make it tougher for thieves to get inside. Shell and Chevron have said they offer security stickers as a option for stations.

At one T/A, we found a red sticker on the main door, and a smaller hologram sticker on the card slot.

If the red sticker is peeled back or broken it says "VOID," alerting drivers to contact the staff.

If you see a sticker like that, it tells you that an unauthorized person has opened up the gas pump recently.

Thieves find way to defeat stickers, too

In theory, the tamper-proof stickers should give you peace of mind.

However, scammers are now finding ways around that, too.

The website Consumerist is finding very authentic looking fake pump security stickers for sale on eBay. A stack of red look-alike stickers was recently selling for $69.

A smart thief, armed with these, could place them on the pump's lock door after installing a skimmer, Consumerist says.

Changes coming in next two years

Dusty Rhodes, auditor for Hamilton County, Ohio, says things will improve once stations install chip readers, as all gas pumps have in Canada. In the U.S., gas stations are not yet required to use them the way stores are.

"Eventually they are going to have this new, new technology, and they will be able to thwart a lot of this," Rhodes said. "But that's a couple of years out."

Until then, police say:

  • Use a credit card, not a debit card at pumps, so you can stop a fraudulent charge before you lose any money.
  • Use the pump closest to the store windows. Police say thieves typically install skimmers on pumps that cannot be seen by the store clerk.
  • Pay inside, especially if the station's off an interstate ramp, where criminals can easily come and go.

That way you stay safe and you don't waste your money

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