How to Protect Yourself From Gas Pump Skimmers

Fraudulent payment transactions remain a concern during the pandemic , according to Forbes, as fraudulent payment transactions rose 23% in 2020 over the same period last year. Here’s what you need to know about how scams work and why you shouldn’t pay with a debit card when refueling.

What is card skimming?

Card withdrawal is when a thief uses a small device to steal your credit or debit card information when used for routine transactions such as buying gas at a gas station. When the card is read, the device steals banking information stored on the magnetic stripe – your account number, full name, card expiration date and country code. Sometimes, these devices also contain a pinhole camera or fake keyboard that can steal your PIN as well.

Older gas stations are especially vulnerable to card withdrawal because they rely on technology that only reads the magnetic stripe data from the card (even if the card has a chip). The likelihood that your card has been removed from the card increases if the gas station is not monitored by cameras, gas assistants, or other customers.

Gas pumps get an update

Fortunately, credit card companies have asked fuel sellers to upgrade their pumps to follow the “EMV” standard (which stands for Europay, Mastercard, Visa), which relies on scanning your card chip, not the magnetic stripe. To help with compliance, the new standard shifts the responsibility for fraudulent transactions from the credit card company to the merchant if the machines are not upgraded. The deadline for compliance was last October but has been pushed back to April 2021 due to the pandemic.

Fuel sellers are reluctant to adopt these new standards, so it is unlikely that all filling stations will meet the required deadline. However, the likelihood of theft should decrease as the standard becomes more widespread.

How not to get caught at the gas station

In the meantime, the safest option is to simply not use any cards at the gas station, period. Instead, pay at a gas station, ideally with a chip reader at the terminal.

However, if you’re going to pay at a gas station, at least consider using a credit card instead of a debit card. Debit cards do not have the same zero liability fraud policy as credit cards, and it can take weeks or months to fix a compromised debit card. Worse, you probably won’t see the stolen money returned for some time.

Otherwise, trust your intuition to payment terminals with a pump: if it doesn’t fit, use a different pump or even try a different refueling.

This story was originally published in 2019 and updated on February 8, 2021.


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