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Credit card skimming at gas stations appears to be increasing

Experts offer several strategies to help motorists protect themselves the next time they fill up their tanks

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Photo (c) A.Abejon - Getty Images
For much of 2022, consumers endured record-high gas prices at the pump. While prices have gone down, there’s more to worry about at gas stations than just high prices. Consumers may be susceptible to a number of scams every time they fill up their tanks. 

One such scam that appears to be increasing across the country is credit card skimming. A skimmer attaches to the credit card slot on a gas pump, and rather than your credit card being read by the pump, it’s read by the skimmer. The goal for criminals is to steal credit card information and either use it for themselves to make purchases or sell the information on the internet. 

Depending on what kind of pump you’re at, it can sometimes be easy to spot a skimmer. They sometimes interfere with security tape on gas pumps, or are visible on the outside of the credit card slot. However, in recent years, they’ve become more advanced and can steal credit card information using Bluetooth. 

This is particularly a threat for motorists who use their debit cards at the gas station. Not only is that money immediately taken out of your bank account, but it can make it more difficult to get the money back. Unfortunately, many victims of skimmers don’t realize what damage has been done until they check their balance weeks later. 

A widespread issue

Credit card skimming at gas stations has become problematic at pumps across the country. Reports have surfaced from countless cities nationwide, including: Nevada and California, Maryland, Alabama, Nebraska, and Oklahoma

The issue is growing throughout the state of Oklahoma. Skimmers were identified at several locations in Broken Arrow, Okla., and residents were reporting fraudulent purchases on their credit cards after getting gas. One Broken Arrow resident reported losing nearly $1,000 after paying at a gas pump with a skimmer. 

Skimming had a different outcome in the state of Arizona. After identifying a record-high 209 credit card skimmers at gas stations across the state, officials made it a priority to protect consumers’ safety at the pump.

Officials had gas stations install better security measures at each pump, moving from the traditional credit card slots to either tap-to-pay or chip machines. 

As of March 2022, the Department of Agriculture's Weights and Measures Services Division had received zero reports of credit card skimmers at gas stations. While not all such incidents are reported to officials, heightened security measures are beneficial to both gas stations and consumers.   

Protecting yourself at the pump

Experts from Bankrate and Florida’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services offered some tips for consumers to protect themselves from skimmers when they’re at the gas station. How you pay at the gas station can make a big difference.

Using a credit card versus a debit card provides better protection in the event of skimming while going inside the gas station or convenience store to pay provides an even higher level of security. 

The location of the gas pump you choose can also affect your likelihood of getting caught in a skimming scam. To avoid exposure, those who plant skimmers are the least likely to put them on pumps that are the closest to gas station employees. Choosing pumps that are close to employees, or directly in their line of sight, can improve your odds of falling prey to a skimmer. 

Be vigilant about checking your credit card and bank statements. Knowing as soon as possible if you’ve been caught by a skimmer can make it easier to get back any lost money. 

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