How many drivers carefully study the card slot at the gas pump when they stop to fill up the tank? A tiny minority, probably, even though we’re all getting increasingly aware of all the different ways fraudsters can siphon our bank accounts and credit cards. One of the most popular among these ways is gas pump skimming, amounting to millions of dollars in losses for motorists.
Gas pump skimming has always been popular among identity thieves, probably as popular as ATM skimming because it is apparently simple to attach a card-reading device to the legitimate card slot on both ATMs and pumps. The devices are getting smaller and cheaper and the transfer of data is now done wirelessly, via Bluetooth. In other words, ID and card detail theft is getting even easier, and as a consequence, all the more harmful.
In 2014 alone, in the U.S., fraudsters stole the credit card details of as many as 31.8 million people, which was three times as many as in the previous year. And last year, over the first four months alone, non-ATM skimming rose by a stunning 316 percent.
It seems there is little the authorities and the gas stations can do. Attempts are being made to tighten the penalties for gas pump skimming in some states, such as Florida, or increase the frequency of pump checks, in Kentucky. It’s questionable how the new Florida law will turn out in terms of demotivating criminals to rig gas pump card readers, but practical measures such as the ones applied in Kentucky and elsewhere seem to be doing some good. Related: Giant Helium Find May Spell Trouble For Tanzania
This Independence Day weekend saw a record-high number of travelers, according to the AAA. As many as 43 million people were expected to travel for the long weekend, a lot of them encouraged by record-low prices at the pump. Good news for fraudsters banking on this higher motorist flow across the country, distracted by anticipation of the holiday.
It doesn’t matter how often gas station management and local law enforcers check the pumps, whatever CCTV they rely on, there is always a way for the criminals: they come during the night when the station’s closed and the cameras are off; they use trucks to block the pump to be rigged from view; and so on.
So, in the spirit of “Better safe than sorry,” here are a few tips on minimizing the risks of having your identity and money stolen at the pump.
• Pay in cash – the easiest and safest way. Forget about the cards, just go in and pay cash. The time you “waste” doing this could save you a lot of headache. If you’re really in a hurry, aim for the pump closest to the gas station attendant.
• Shake the slot – when they rig the card reading mechanism, criminals are usually in a hurry for obvious reasons and they may leave some traces of their presence such as leaving the slot slightly askew or damaged. If it rattles when you shake it or even falls, chances are it was tampered with. Related: U.S. Sees Largest Monthly Production Decline Since The Downturn Begun
• Watch for the sticker – Fuel retailers put security stickers on their pumps and a sign of damage on the sticker can indicate the presence of a skimming device. Yet these stickers can be copied. Bear that in mind and don’t rely entirely on them.
• Don’t use your RFID-chip cards at the pump – some credit cards have a chip instead of a magnetic tape. This chip can be scanned by an electronic pickpocketing device carried by a person standing or passing by you at the pump.
It’s a sad fact that fraudsters are usually a step ahead of the authorities in this game, so we’d better rely on ourselves first and foremost to avoid losing a bunch of money while enjoying the lowest gas prices since 2005.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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