Are You Watching for Credit Card Skimmers at the Gas Pumps?
Credit card skimmers are devices that are installed on credit card readers, commonly at gas pumps. These devices allow thieves to obtain your credit card and bank card information. In the first six months of 2016, news outlets in Ohio have reported that credit card skimmers were found in Butler, Fayette, Hamilton, Montgomery, Portage, Summit, Union, Warren, and Washington counties. Do you know how to find one?
What is a credit card skimmer?
Credit card skimmers come in a variety of designs and can be installed several ways, which makes detection difficult. Sometimes the devices are installed inside the pump housing, and they relay your financial information by Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to a computer. The information can be obtained from some distance away, dependent upon the battery or power source. The thieves rarely go back to collect the skimmer, as they usually opt to collect information until the skimmer is discovered.
Credit card skimmers are typically found at busy gas stations near major highways, but there is nothing that prevents criminals from targeting small rural gas stations.
How do I look for a credit card skimmer on a gas pump?
The first thing to look for on the gas pump is the County Auditor’s Seal. If this seal is present, it means that the County Weights & Measures Inspector has inspected the pumps and measured the gas to ensure that you get a gallon of gas when you pay for it. The Seal means that the County Inspector was there recently, but it does not protect you from a skimmer installed after the inspector’s visit.
Gas pumps also have tape placed on the gas pump to prevent unauthorized opening of the housing. Once again, unfortunately, an intact seal on a gas pump is not a guarantee that you are safe from a skimmer. The tape can often be peeled back and reapplied. If the tape is broken, do not use that pump.
The second thing to look for is an external device. Some skimmers are designed to look like the credit card reader on the pump, and these devices are installed on the outside. Make sure there is nothing loose on the card reader before inserting your card. You might also want to look at the other pumps to ensure the credit card readers look the same.
Unfortunately, no level of inspection can fully protect you if an advanced credit card skimmer is installed inside the gas pump housing. There are two things to remember: 1) Avoid pumps that are out of the line of sight of the employees as devices are typically installed at pumps located on the ends and out of sight of the attendants. 2) Avoid using your personal identification number (PIN) on gas pumps. If you want to use your PIN, then Pay Inside Only. Be aware that in a few instances, skimmers have even been found on credit card readers inside gas stations and stores, so always be careful when using your PIN.
It’s not happening just at the gas pump anymore.
Reports have recently come in from Walmart locations in northern Kentucky and southwest Ohio that criminals are placing credit card skimmers over the top of credit card machines at self-checkouts. This is a bold move since these stores are filled with surveillance equipment. It’s only a matter of time before these criminals install these at similar locations if they haven’t already done so. The Pike County Auditor’s office has made our local businesses aware of this new criminal effort so that business owners can be on the alert to watch for such devices.
How do I protect myself?
Even though you are generally not responsible for fraudulent transactions, it is a best practice to sign up through your bank to receive security alerts that will notify you of suspicious transactions such as when your card is used without being present, a transaction is made exceeding a certain amount, an international transaction is made, and other alerts so that you may take action immediately.
Erica Snodgrass is the Pike County Auditor. You may contact her by phone at (740) 947-4125 or by email at [email protected]