How to spot and avoid gas station credit card skimmers

By Jeff Allen, Seminole County Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, July 24, 2015, 8:55 AM EDT

As deputies continue to look for two men who set up skimming devices at three different bank ATMs in Seminole County recently, there's another place people need to be aware of the skimming device danger.

A trip to the gas pump can lead to a nightmare if you slide your credit card in a card reader that's been rigged with a skimming device. Thieves use the devices to capture your credit or debit card's information.

"Technology is improving every day, and unfortunately, people are finding ways to use that against the general public," said Patricia Mylett Lee, an administrative technician with AAA.

When you're pulling into a gas station, AAA recommends you carefully choose which gas pump you use. Experts suggest finding one in the direct line of sight of a gas station clerk. If the clerk can see the pump at all times, chances are thieves won't tamper with it.

Tips to avoid ATM skimmers at gas pumps

  • Pay in cash inside the store to ensure credit card information stays safe.
     
  • Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed and has not been tampered with. Many stations are now putting a piece of security tape over the cabinet to ensure it has not been opened by unauthorized individuals.
     
  • Try to use a gas pump closer to the front of the store. Thieves often place skimmers at the gas pumps farther away from the store so they aren't noticed as quickly.
     
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection, and the money is not deducted immediately from an account.
     
  • If using a debit card at the pump, choose to run it as a credit card instead of putting a PIN number in. That way, the PIN number is safe.
     
  • Monitor bank accounts regularly to spot any unauthorized charges.
     
  • Consumers who suspect their credit card number has been compromised should report it immediately to authorities and their credit card company.

The owner of a Shell station in Lake Mary said he keeps an attendant permanently in the middle of the pumps to keep an eye on all of the pumps at all times.

AAA recommends inspecting the gas pump when you first get to it. Make sure the card reader looks like all the other card readers nearby, is firmly in place, and that there isn't a small camera set up nearby. While security cameras are common at bank ATMs, you shouldn't see one next to a gas pump's card reader.

"If you must enter a PIN, we recommend you shield the keypad in case there is a camera mounted near the keypad," said Mylett Lee. "Shield it so it can't see you entering your number."

Some skimmers are less obvious than others, as thieves are known to break into the pump device and replace the wiring. AAA recommends even if you are using a debit card, try using the credit option to avoid entering your PIN. Experts said it's best to use a reliable credit card that protects you in case your card number is stolen or used for fraudulent purchases.

The only way to guarantee you won't become a victim through the use of a skimmer at the gas pump: Pay with cash.

"Cash is not always the most convenient, but it is the best way to avoid becoming a victim," said Mylett Lee.

Our calls to two companies which have a large number of gas stations in Central Florida about what they are doing to prevent skimmer thefts were not immediately answered.