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Tech tips

Gas pump skimmers steal your money – here’s how to spot them

Gas stations are some of the most popular locations for card skimmers — devices that can steal your credit or debit card information with a single swipe. This allows hackers to drain your bank account and max out your credit cards.

The next time you’re gassing up your vehicle, pay attention to the card reader. You don’t want to get duped. Tap or click here for 4 things you must do to protect your money while traveling.

But what are you supposed to look for and how can you be sure your cards aren’t skimmed? We’ll explain everything, starting with gas pump skimmers.

Problems at the gas pump

The automated gas pump is one of the most convenient machines ever 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. 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 can also be found on ATMs and point-of-sale devices. For an example of the chaos this can cause, tap or click here.

Related: Tap or click here for 9 clever ways thieves steal your identity

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.
  • 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, 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? Play it safe and pay inside.
  • 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 to see if it looks different from those on other pumps.

Thieves are using devices that can be attached to the card reader and emit radio signals. 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 330 feet away. It uses your Bluetooth to scan for the skimmer’s hardware. But 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 a map.

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 $1.99 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, but 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. We’d just stick to the Bluetooth detection trick.

Now that you know how to find skimmers, you can enjoy that family trip — unless, of course, your kids are acting up. Sorry, but there’s no app for that.

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