A skimmer inside a gas pump can steal the information off the magnetic stripe of your credit or debit card. Incidents of skimmer fraud at gas stations are on the rise, but you can protect your cards and greatly reduce your risk at the gas pump by taking a few simple steps.

Observe

  • Look closely at the keyboard and card reader before you insert your card. Does anything look slightly “off” to you?
  • Try to check if the seal is broken. To place a skimmer inside a fuel pump, fraudsters must open the fuel dispenser door to insert the skimmer. Make sure it doesn’t look as if it’s been forced open.
  • Some stations place serial-numbered security tape across the dispenser door. If that’s the case at your pump, check to see if the tape has been broken.
  • Look into the card reader to see if you can spot something hidden in there.

Feel

  • Wiggle the card reader to see if it’s loose. Sometimes crooks place a card reader on top of the existing one. If it jiggles, it may be compromised.
  • You should also be wary if it’s difficult to insert your card into the slot.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, move on.

Use Your Phone

  • There are now smartphone applications that can alert you to possible skimmers. There’s the Skimmer Scanner app, available for free on Android phones, and the Card Skimmer Locator, also free, on iPhones.
  • Basically, the applications scan for any card skimmers that are transmitting information using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The crooks can sit 100 yards away in their vehicle while credit or debit card information is transmitted to their laptop.
  • If your smartphone detects a skimmer, use a different pump or go to a different gas station.

Use Your Instincts

  • Use fuel pumps in safe places and avoid pumps that are out of sight of the clerk. The criminal needs to physically insert and later extricate the skimmers from the pumps, so the less visible pumps are the most likely targets.

A few final tips:

  • Pay inside rather than at the pump. There’s less chance a fraudster placed a card skimmer on the payment terminal inside the gas station.
  • Choose pumps closest to a building (not around the corner).
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card when you pay. Or, if you want to use your debit card, choose “credit” as the option so you don’t have to enter your PIN. If a credit card number is skimmed, the card is protected by a zero-liability policy. (That’s the case for all Redwood Credit Union cards.) A stolen debit card number could yield far worse damage.
  • Set up fraud alerts on your credit and debit cards and check your statements frequently. Nearly every issuer offers these, and many will email and/or text you when your card is used at a gas station. (If you haven’t yet enrolled your RCU card, log in to RCU online or mobile banking, and click “Alerts” to get started.)
  • Consider paying with your digital wallet. Apple Pay®, Google Pay®, and Samsung Pay® are available with your RCU debit and credit cards. When you pay by phone, your card never goes in the payment reader that may contain a skimmer.

As fraudsters become more adept, it’s up to us to outmaneuver them whenever possible. These are all simple and free ways to use your powers of observation to protect your accounts. Stay safe out there!