Prior posts have warned consumers about skimming scams at ATM machines and how to recognize and avoid ATM machines that has been tampered with. As consumers have use their debit cards more often at a wider range of retail stores, identity thieves have moved their skimming scams accordingly.
I wasn't surprised to read that criminals operate card-skimming scams at gas stations, and not just at ATM machines. I was surprised to learn the following: at ATM machines criminals attach a portable card-skimming device on the outside of the ATM card slot (where it can be seen if you are alert), but at gas stations criminals insert a portable card-skimming device inside the gas pump where it can't be seen by consumers.
Inside the gas pump? Read the scam alert from the AARP Webletter:
"Soon after filling up at the gas pump, a motorist learns that his bank account has been emptied. What happened? Another case of “skimming,” in which crooks place a portable card-reading device—readily available over the Internet—inside the pump. When the customer inserts his debit card and enters the required personal identification number, the device captures both the data from the card’s magnetic stripe and the PIN. Later, the devices are retrieved, and the stolen data is used to create a duplicate card to raid the victim’s bank account."
Gas stations are becoming a more popular target by identity thieves since the gas pumps are frequently unattended and not monitored by security cameras. This makes it easier for criminals to insert a portable card-reader device inside the gas pump to steal consumers' bank account information:
"That was the case with one member of the Russian mob, which is often behind organized skimming rings. He took a job at an Arco station and placed a skimming device inside a gas pump. After he disappeared, authorities learned that his hidden skimmer stole $300,000 from customers’ debit cards."
The skimming scams are made easier by older gas station pumps that don't encrypt the PIN numbers.
What should a consumer do to avoid getting "mugged" at a gas station? The first priority is to protect your personal identification number (PIN). Experts advise that consumers should:
- Pay at the pump using the "credit" option and not the "debit" option. This provides you with greater protections, liability limited to $50, and you don't use your PIN. Plus, you receive loyalty points if your credit card has a loyalty program.
- If you want to pay using the "debit" option, don't pay at the pump. Go inside the gas station and pay at the cashier's window. If a "signature debit" is available, use that there instead of your PIN.
- Pay with cash if possible, since that never discloses your bank account information.
What do I do? I pay with cash, especially if I am at a gas station I don't shop at regularly.