Protect Yourself From Credit/Debit Card Skimming at the Pumps

by Chris Bjorklund

Credit card skimmers are responsible for over $2 billion in losses worldwide. Photo: CC0 Creative Commons ©2019

The last two times my credit card number was hacked, I can trace it back to using the card at convenience store gas pumps. The physical card itself was always in my possession, yet small fraudulent charges (under $50) started showing up on my account. Fortunately, I look at my account online almost every day and receive an alert whenever a charge of $10 or more is made. That’s how I caught the problem early before things got out of hand. Still, my credit card account had to be shut down, which meant I had to contact many companies that bill me automatically for payments. I also had to change the credit card number on file for Uber, Amazon, Good Eggs, PayPal and iTunes. It took a lot of time.

Since then, I’ve been much more careful about where I buy gas and how I pay for it. The problem is that gas pumps are still being “skimmed” every day, resulting in more than $2 billion of losses worldwide. Skimming is when a device as thin as a credit card is inserted to steal the credit or debit card information on the magnetic strips without your knowledge. Sometimes a new keyboard is created and placed on top of the real one, or a skimmer can be placed deep inside of the card reader. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, a compromised pump can collect data on 30 to 100 cards per day.

Some gas stations have started using chip technology (rather than just magnetic strips on cards) that offers much more protection for consumers, but universal use isn’t around the corner. So, in the meantime, what can we do to protect ourselves? Here’s what the experts say:

  1. Don’t wait for bank statements to identify fraudulent activity. Set up an alert system for charges over a certain amount.
  2. Take a close look at the pump’s card reader and see if it looks different from the others or seems loose. If it moves too easily, try another pump. Most of the time, the skimmer is only placed at one pump at a station.
  3. Pumps closer to the attendant are less likely to be tampered with.
  4. Go inside and pay for your gas with cash or a credit card.
  5. Cover your PIN entry with your hand in case cameras are focused on the keypad.
  6. Generally, it’s much safer to pay for gas with a credit card or a mobile wallet on your phone rather than a debit card.

Have fun on the road this summer!