Don’t get skimmed. Card skimming, in which an illegal reader is attached to a payment terminal, is a pervasive financial scam, particularly at the gas pump. According to the National Association for Convenience Stores,
a single compromised pump at a gas station can compromise 30 to 100 cards every day in the U.S.
“These card readers grab data off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe without your knowledge,” warns the FTC. “Criminals sell the stolen data or use it to buy things online. You won’t know your information has been stolen until you get your statement or an overdraft notice.”
It’s a common problem that’s growing by the year, but it’s easy enough to avoid if you take a few extra precautions.
Don’t pay at the pump
One way, as Krebs on Security notes, is to go inside to the cashier to pay with a debit or credit card, but particularly a debit card. In fact, it’s best not to use a debit card at all, if you can help it.
“Some pump skimming devices are capable of stealing debit card PINs as well, so it’s a good idea to avoid paying with a debit card at the pump,” writes Krebs (emphasis his). “Armed with your PIN and debit card data, thieves can clone the card and pull money out of your account at an ATM.”
That’s one reason, generally, why security and fraud experts recommend paying with a credit card over a debit card: If you use a credit card, you’re not actually spending your money, and you’re protected by your issuer’s zero-liability policy. When your debit card transactions are approved, the money is taken out of your account then and there. If a fraudster took the funds, you then have to wait for their recovery and return, which could take days or weeks. Credit cards can also potentially earn you rewards on gas purchases, depending on which one you use.
And make sure to set up fraud alerts for both your debit and credit accounts.
Pay with your digital wallet
Krebs also notes that some newer pumps may include more mobile payment options like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay, which don’t require the customer to share credit or debit information with the station at all. If you use a mobile payment service that’s enabled at a gas station your frequent, opt for that payment method over your card, or use a payment app (which can also come with some rewards). In general, newer pumps are going to be more secure for payments than older pumps.
Some stations give customers a discount for paying with a debit card as opposed to credit, because it’s cheaper for them to process, Krebs writes. If that’s the case, look for a different station.
“It may not be the best idea to frequent a particular filling station simply because it offers the lowest prices: Doing so could leave you with hidden costs down the road,” he writes.