Gas stations are some of the most popular locations for card skimmers — devices that can steal your credit or debit card information allowing hackers to drain your bank account and max out your credit cards.
We’ll explain how they work, how to recognize if there’s on on the pump, and we’ve got a couple of cool apps you can use to spot skimmers and report them to other drivers.
Gas pump skimmers
The automated gas pump is one of the most convenient machines created. Just pull up to the pump, swipe your credit or debit card through the card reader, choose your fuel grade and start filling up your tank.
You don’t have to go inside the gas station, remember your pump number or wait in line to pay for your gas. Just swipe and go.
But, this being the digital age, we can’t have nice things for long. Enter the credit card skimmer.
Thieves attach these devices on or into the card reader so they can steal your card’s information, clone it and use it. They also can be found on ATMs and point-of-sale devices.
How to spot a skimmer
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission offers these low-tech tips to help you spot a gas pump skimmer:
- Take a good look at the gas pump panel. If it’s closed, doesn’t show signs of tampering or the station’s security seal is intact, the pump is probably good to go.
- Also, examine the card reader. If it looks different than other readers at the station, take caution. Wiggling the card reader can also provide a clue. If it moves, use a different pump.
- If you’re going to use a debit card at the pump, you have the option to run it as a credit card instead. Do this, so you won’t have to enter your PIN.
- Not sure if there is a skimmer? Just pay inside.
- As always, monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.
App for monitoring card skimmers
Take note: Thieves are getting more sophisticated and many no longer need to open the pump’s card-reader panel to install a skimmer. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the card reader itself to see if it looks different from those on other pumps.
Thieves are now using devices that can be attached to the card reader and emit a radio signal. To detect those, all you have to do is turn on your smartphone’s Bluetooth function. If you see a long number trying to connect to your phone’s Bluetooth as you stand in front of the gas pump, you’ve found a skimmer.
There also are apps that help you detect skimmers. One of the better apps, Skim Plus (Bluetooth Skimmer Detection), is for Android phones.
With this app, you can detect a skimmer from more than 300 feet away. It uses your Bluetooth to scan for the skimmer hardware.
You can already do that for yourself, so why bother with the app? Well, not only does the app detect the skimmer, but it also marks it on Google Maps.
In fact, once you install the app you can see all the skimmers detected by other people using Skim Plus all around the world. Imagine how much help that can be if you’re on a long road trip.
The app costs 99 cents at the Google Play Store, and many reviewers give it high marks, especially because it is frequently updated.
If you’re an Apple user you can try the Card Skimmer Locator app. The good news is this app is free. The bad news is it doesn’t have many reviews and looks like it’s been a while since it was updated so it might not work as well as the one for Android users.
But never fear iPhone lovers. Just use the simple Bluetooth detection trick. Now that you know how to find skimmers, you can enjoy that family trip — unless your kids are acting up. There’s no app for that.
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