Credit Card Skimming is more common at convenience store and other gas pumps than at bank ATM machines because there are a lot more gas stations than banks, and there are many locations where it’s easy for a thief to install a skimming device without being seen.
Currently in the United States, credit card fraud is occurring most often in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, and Florida.
As explained in another post, a credit card skimmer is a device placed over, or in front of, the slot where you insert your credit card.
So your card number will be read by the real gas pump device, and the “fake” one placed by the crook(s).
Several days (or weeks) later the crook will remove the skimmer and then use the credit card data to drain bank accounts or buy items.Some thieves have been known to put a “fake front panel” on the pump which covers the actual keypad and card reader – but at most gas stations it would probably take too much time to put this fake front panel on without being seen.
Thieves also install hidden cameras in fake panels, speaker covers, lights, etc. which record you entering a PIN number.
What makes gas pump skimming a much worse problem than ATM skimmers at banks, is the thieves are installing the skimmers inside gas pumps.
They are getting universal keys, which allow them to open the gas pump and place the skimmer inside.
One news story said there were only four keys for one particular pump model. The “universal keys” may be easily obtainable online.
Once a skimming device is placed, it could be recording hundreds of credit card numbers, unless and until a gas station employee opens the pump and spots the device inside (and removes it).
Wireless and “Bluetooth” Thieves
Some card skimming at gas stations involves using wireless technology to intercept signals that some stations use to transmit data from pumps to central computers.
If crooks can find a station using a wireless network to transmit cardholder information, they can sit somewhere within signal range and steal data with a wireless-connected laptop.
In some cases the skimming devices themselves will transmit data back to the crooks using Bluetooth or other wireless technology.
Tips to avoid credit card skimmers:
- The only way to totally avoid becoming a skimming victim at the gas pump, is to pay with cash inside.
- You can also bring you credit/debit card inside and prepay. Watch what the clerk does with your card. There occasionally have been stories of dishonest clerks who skimmed peoples’ card numbers into a portable device that was then used later to obtain the card numbers. The portable skimmers can store hundreds of credit card numbers. Then counterfeit cards can be made using the numbers.
- Choose a gas pump near the store. The skimmers are probably more likely to pick an “outside” pump that can’t be watched as easily as an inside one.
- Pick a location where security cameras are installed that can view everyone that unlocks/opens a gas pump. If your favorite station doesn’t have cameras, encourage the manager or owner to install them.
- Limit the locations where you buy gas. Pick a gas station where you know the layout and what the pumps are supposed to look like.
- Get to know the manager and ask how often the pumps are checked inside and out.
- If you use a debit card, don’t type in your PIN. Use the “Credit” option.
- If something looks suspicious about the gas pump or card slot, or if parts look lose or crooked, don’t use the machine, and inform the station manager.
- Check your bank or credit card statements online every day for unauthorized charges. Report unauthorized charges or cash withdrawals immediately.
- If you do suspect skimming, call law enforcement immediately. “Let the station attendant know, but don’t rely on them to call the police.
Why is ATM and Credit Card Skimming more common in the United States?
In the US credit card data is stored on magnetic strips. These strips can be copied easily and cheaply.
In European and many other countries they are using cards with an embedded micro-chip (computer chip) instead of a magnetic strip. These are called “Smart Cards“. The computer chips are encrypted, so they can’t be copied.
The use of the encrypted card system has been slow in the United States because it requires upgrading to a new ATM system, and a large investment of money to install new equipment, terminals, etc.