Credit card skimmers are discreet smart devices that hackers, thieves, and scammers have been known to install at credit card terminals to steal card information and make fraudulent purchases. Gas station fuel pumps are a preferred choice for many criminals because they’re accessible places for hiding and retrieving their skimmers. To effectively protect yourself, it’s important to know the two types of fuel pump skimmers: internal and external.
An internal pump skimmer is installed by someone physically breaking into the pump area through the fuel dispenser door.
An external pump skimmer is installed over an existing card reader, right out in the open.
Card skimmers can be difficult to detect at the fuel pump if you don’t know what to look for. Below are a few things to check.
Match the pumps
Skimming at a gas station typically only happens at a single pump. When you're filling up, look around at the other pumps. Does the card reader at your pump match the others? If the card reader at one pump differs from the others, don't use it and be sure to bring it to the attention of a gas station employee.
More and more gas stations are placing serial-numbered security stickers across the dispenser doors on their fuel pumps to protect against internal skimmers. In order to install an internal skimmer, a criminal has to break this seal. So if the sticker on your fuel pump is torn, talk to a gas station employee or move to another pump.
Take a good look at the actual card reader at the pump station you’re using. If the housing around the card reader is loose, looks odd, or if it's difficult to insert your card, this can indicate an external skimmer may be present. If your fuel pump shows any of these warning signs, don’t insert your card.
At the end of the day, a very low percentage of fuel pumps are affected by card skimmers. Still, a few simple precautions can help you minimize your risk of falling victim to these illegal devices. Follow these tips, stay alert, and you should be fine.