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How to spot and outsmart credit card skimmers

Posted by Jonathan Clay on July 02, 2018

 

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Gas-pump skimming is an old crime making a comeback, and your card may be at risk. Since skimmer devices are almost invisible, they can be difficult to spot. And Bluetooth technology lets the scammer remotely obtain the info it collects from as far as 100 yards away.

Most credit and debit cards come standard with EMV chips a safer alternative to magnetic strips. Unfortunately, magnetic strips aren't going anywhere for a while. We're currently in the middle of a transition from strip to chip as U.S. merchants one-by-one introduce chip-enabled terminals at their place of business. Automated gas pumps are last on that list, with a deadline for compliance of October 2020. This leaves consumers vulnerable to skimmers stealing their card information for at least another year.

How it works

Hackers usually outfit the pump farthest from the convenience store with their skimmer. This way, they are out of the range of any security cameras at the shop’s entrance. The hacker places a skimming device on top of the pump’s card reader or inside the pump itself, and then leaves the area. 

Choose your payment method wisely

You may seek extra protection by using a credit card or cash to pay at the pump. A credit card lets you easily dispute fraudulent charges. Depending upon your financial institution, a debit card may not have much purchase protection. At Louisiana FCU, we offer fraud protection as well as cardholder dispute options.

How to spot a skimmer 

If you don’t like the idea of using cash, you can still protect yourself by being on the lookout for skimmers. If something looks suspicious, don’t use that pump! 

Four ways to spot a skimmer:

  1. Use your eyes. Do numbers on the PIN pad look newer or bigger than the rest of the machine? Does anything look like it doesn’t belong? Is the fuel pump’s seal broken?
  2. Check the tape. Many gas stations place serial-numbered security tape across the dispenser to protect their pumps. If the tape has been broken, or there’s no tape on the dispenser at all, it’s likely been compromised.
    Fuel Tape
  3. Use your fingers. Feel the card reader before sliding your debit card into the slot. Do the keys feel raised? Is it difficult to insert your card?
  4. Use your phone. There are several free skimming apps, like Skimmer Scanner, that can scan a card reader for a skimming device and alert you if one is found. You can also check your phone’s Bluetooth for any strange letters or numbers appearing under “other devices.”

General card safety 

It’s always a good idea to practice general safety when using a card to pay at the pump. Choose the pump closest to the store and always cover the number pad with your hand when inputting your PIN. It’s also a good idea to periodically check your account statements for suspicious charges.