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Skimmers, Gas Pumps and You

By Jeff Rutledge, a NortonLifeLock employee

You’ve heard about gas station skimmers. Maybe you or a friend has had a credit card compromised after filling up, or you saw a criminal in crime drama open up a pump and install a device.

Skimmers are nothing new, but technology has made them smaller and harder to spot, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Sometimes, they’re even hidden inside a gas pump.

Even in an era of major cyberattacks, gas pump skimmers remain a popular way to steal your payment card data.

How criminals install skimmers

How easy is it to install a skimmer? Well, gas pumps are locked, but the key for that lock is nearly universal, and thieves can buy it on the Internet. After that, it’s just a matter of popping the pump open, connecting the skimmer, and closing the door again.

A voluntary industry program tries to combat skimming by encouraging service stations to put a sticker on the pump door. The security seal over the gas pump helps users detect if the panel has been tampered with or opened. But consumers may not know to look for the seal, and a gas station may not regularly check to see if the security seal has been cut.

Plus, a thief these days often doesn’t have to worry about opening the pump up a second time to retrieve the skimmed credit card data. Their skimmer might have Bluetooth capability, which would allow the thief to pull up nearby and connect to the skimmer remotely.

4 ways to help protect yourself from skimmers

The good news is there are steps you can take to help protect yourself. Here are four:

  1. Consider whether the station you’re filling up at is a likely target for thieves. For instance, it may not have security cameras or it might not use the safety stickers.
  2. Avoid using debit cards to pay at the pump. A credit card may add an additional layer between you and your money, and it’s less likely you’ll be held responsible if the card is compromised. If you want to be extra careful, pay cash.
  3. Take a look at the pump. If the front panel is loose, the sticker is torn, or anything at all seems suspicious, try a different one.
  4. Consider paying inside the gas station, instead of at the pump, if you’re concerned about skimmers.

Skimming vs. identity theft

It’s important to note that fraudulent charges on your credit card—that may result from skimming—isn’t the same as identity theft.

Having someone make unauthorized charges on your credit card might be unnerving, but you’ll likely not suffer any financial losses given how banks and credit card companies handle such charges.

In contrast, when someone has access to your Social Security number, it can be a different story. A thief who misuses you Social Security number can affect your credit rating and good name.

Even so, it’s smart to pump safely.

To learn more, you can read a detailed report about how credit card skimming works and how to avoid it.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Norton LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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