Fueling stations are fertile ground for one of the most difficult-to-detect forms of fraud: credit card skimming. In the month of March alone, the Houston Chronicle reported police found skimmers at 13 fueling stations across the city. Investigators in the Houston area say fuel pumps are the preferred medium for thieves who install skimmers. “Typically the [fueling stations] that are more vulnerable are more unattended,” William Smarr, the deputy special agent in charge at the U.S. Secret Service in Houston, told the Chronicle.
Texas currently leads the nation in thefts related to credit card skimmers at fuel pumps. A bill signed into law this summer, however, may finally put an end to this dubious distinction. In the past, if the skimming happened to a victim when they were outside their jurisdiction, it meant a huge hassle. “To make the victim track down all these locations, learn the laws in all these different areas, and then file the reports, it’s just unreasonable,” Aransas Pass Chief of Police, Eric Blanchard, told KRIS 6 NEWS. The new law streamlines the reporting process, making it easier to prosecute credit card skimming.
How Thieves Steal Your Account Information as You Fuel
Card skimming at the pump usually looks like this: a thief installs a magnetic strip reader to an existing payment terminal. According to a blog by EFS, “some criminals will place a fake keypad over the existing keypad in order to capture the PIN as it is entered. Others will place a camera near the fake device in order to record the PIN as it is entered.”
The fraudulent strip readers and keypads are designed to look like the real deal. Victims of card skimming often don’t know they’ve been had until they notice fraudulent charges on their accounts or money withdrawn from their checking account even though their debit card never left their wallet.
How to Detect a Credit Card Skimmer at the Fuel Pump
According to The Balance, there are four solid ways to detect a skimming device:
- A credit card reader that sticks out far past the panel
Skimmers are designed to fit over the existing credit card reader. If you notice a reader that protrudes outside the face of the rest of the machine, it may be a skimmer.
- Parts of the credit card reader are loose or move when jiggled
The credit card reader should be securely in place. Moving parts are a sign the reader has been tampered with or that a skimming device has been affixed to the existing reader.
- A security seal that has been voided
Stations often place a security label across the pump that lets you know if the cabinet panel on the fuel dispenser has been tampered with. When intact, the label has a flat red, blue, or black background. However, once the seal has been broken, the words “Void Open” appear in white. If the seal is broken, it’s a sign that someone without authorization has accessed the cabinet.
- A PIN pad that’s thicker than normal
Thieves may place a fake keypad on top of the real one to capture your keystrokes. This way they can capture your pin or billing zip code in addition to your credit or debit card details. If the keys seem hard to push, eject your card and use another ATM.
To better avoid skimmers, don’t fuel up at unattended stations. Always report signs of tampering at the pump to station attendants.