When you go to the gas station do you think about the credit card reader? Do you notice if it's been tampered with? Do you check your billing statement to make sure the charges match your receipt? With costs going up everywhere, you might not notice that your credit card is being skimmed. In this article, we’ll explain what credit card skimming is and some common tips on how to avoid it.
Per Wikipedia, ”Skimming is the theft of personal information which has been used in an otherwise normal transaction. The thief can procure a victim's card number using basic methods such as photocopying receipts or more advanced methods such as using a small electronic device (skimmer) to swipe and store hundreds of victims' card numbers.
Common danger zones for credit card skimming are taxis, restaurants or bars where the skimmer has possession of the victim's payment card out of their immediate view. The thief may also use a small keypad to unobtrusively transcribe the three or four-digit card security code, which is not present on the magnetic strip.”
This is something to think carefully about when you go to fill up at the gas station or other point of sale kiosks.
A survey had been done by LendingTree of America, which is an online lending marketplace, asking their customers about their experiences when purchasing gasoline. This was the data they reported.
“15% of Americans said they’ve been a victim of skimming at the pump.
43% of Americans said they’ve changed the way they pay for gas because of concerns about skimming
Millennials are most likely to have changed their gas-paying habits (48% versus 43% for Gen Xers and boomers).
Women are slightly more likely to have changed than men (43% versus 48%).
Paying inside versus at the pump is the most common way (20%) people have changed their habits because of the risk of skimming.”
An article by Jaime Stathis explains how the credit card skimmer works. “A credit card skimmer is a magnetic stripe reader placed on an existing, legitimate card reader,” says Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with cybersecurity website Comparitech. “Whenever a customer pays with their card, their card is read by both the skimmer and the original reader…Skimmers are designed to be discreet so that the victim doesn’t notice them,” he says. “The skimmer stores scanned credit card info until the person who put it there retrieves it.”
This article gives the top ten tips to avoid credit card skimming.
Some tips which might help include looking at the credit card reader and visualizing it carefully. Does it look to be tampered? Does the keypad look as if it fits there or is it out of place? An electronic keypad may be placed on top of the original one if a skimmer is in place.
If there are signs that the set up might be tampered, mention this to the attendant or staff member. When you are entering your PIN for a transaction, use your body or other hand to prevent other people from guessing the numbers you entered. Concern that there may be a hidden camera installed nearby to gather more information.
It is more suspicious if the card reader is in a location that is out of the way or in a poorly lit area. Also, if you are not comfortable with the credit card reader, you might feel more secure if you paid in person inside the store. Additionally, this article describes more about how to tell if a gas pump has been targeted by a scammer.
The well-known Krebs on Security blog has an interesting article about skimmer devices and showcases some examples of skimmers at this link.
Also, here is an early example of skimming at the gas pump from 2010. These links are very useful to review because they give actual visualizations of what a card skimmer setup might look like. It might help you more easily identify a problem with a card reader when you are in person at a gas station or other point of service kiosk.
More recently, skimmers were found at numerous locations on gas pumps in Houston, Texas. The 2022 story states the issue has been ongoing since 2018.
Another news story described a man who regularly checked the gas station card readers he used every time he got his gas. He was able to identify that the card reader this time was fake. He told the gas station attendant and also notified his circle on Facebook.
Yet another 2022 news story, this time in Ohio, discusses finding credit card skimmers on gas station pumps.
With gas prices increasing and inflation making everything more expensive, it is possible that the use of skimmers will be on the rise. Beware of possible scams when using self-service stations or in places like taxis, ATMs and gas pumps!