In 2020 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning about the dangers presented by skimmers on gas pumps. I have warned you about the dangers of skimmers for many years. Recently a student at the University of Massachusetts fell victim to a skimmer at a local gas station. Skimmers are small electronic devices that are easily installed by an identity thief on gas pumps, ATMs and other card reading devices. The skimmer steals all of the information from old style magnetic strip credit card or debit cards which then enables the identity thief to use that information to access the victim’s credit card or bank account when the skimmer is used on a debit card. Each skimmer can hold information on as many as 2,400 cards.
MasterCard and Visa announced in December of 2016 that the deadline for the installation of EMV chip card readers on gas pumps was being delayed three years to October 1, 2020. This deadline was further delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic to April 17, 2021 at which time less than half of the gas pumps in the United States complied with the requirement to install EMV chip card readers.
Wider implementation of the use of EMV chip cards at retail stores where their use has been mandated since 2015 has resulted in a dramatic reduction in data breaches and credit card fraud at retailers using this equipment. EMV chip cards are far safer than the old-style magnetic strip cards. Around the country there has been a dramatic increase in the use of skimmers installed by criminals at gas pumps and while the deadline for gas pumps to install chip readers has passed, many gas pumps still do not use EMV chip card readers and so skimmers at gas pumps continue to be a problem.
Always look for signs of tampering on any machine you use to swipe your credit card or debit card although the more advanced forms of skimmers are installed in the gas pump’s interior and cannot be detected from an inspection of the outside of the pump. Keys to open the gas pumps to allow the installation of the skimmer are readily available online. If the card inserting mechanism appears loose or in any other way tampered, don’t use it.
Debit cards, when compromised through a skimmer put the customers at risk of having the bank accounts tied to their cards entirely emptied if the theft is not promptly reported and even if the victim reports the theft immediately, the victim loses access to his or her bank account while the matter is investigated by the bank.
Debit cards should not be used for purchases at gas pumps. Instead use your credit card and monitor your account regularly to find out early if you have become a victim of this scam. With a credit card, your liability for fraudulent purchases is limited by law to no more than $50 and I am not aware of any credit card companies that hold their customers responsible for any fraudulent purchases. However, fraudulent debit purchases do not come with the same federal legal protection.
When choosing a particular gas pump, you may wish to pick the pump closest to the building and within the sight line of the attendant. Criminals are less likely to install skimmers in pumps where they could be observed making the illegal installation of a skimmer.
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