Credit Card Skimmers: Why You Should Pay Cash For Your Summer Gas

Do yourself a favor when you’re filling up with gas for your summer road trips across California and beyond — and pay with cold, hard cash, the Secret Service warns. Clever fraudsters have installed credit card “skimmers” at fuel pumps across the nation to steal unsuspecting motorists’ personal financial information — and ultimately, their money, the agency said.Skimmers aren’t new, but new technology makes them smaller and almost impossible to spot, In some cases, the scammers don’t even have to return to the fuel pump to recover the information because they use Bluetooth technology to access it remotely.The Secret Service said before the July 4 holiday it is conducting operations in 21 U.S. states to locate and recover the devices. A similar crackdown over the Memorial Day holiday turned up 70 skimming devices.

“These initiatives demonstrate the commitment of the Secret Service to combat cyberenabled financial crimes and secure our nation’s financial infrastructure,” the agency said in a statement. “Special Agents and Investigative Analysts from around the country will continue to work closely with state and local law enforcement partners to minimize risks by informing the public and apprehending those responsible for credit card skimming operations.”

The skimmers can be installed in other equipment that scans credit card numbers, but gas stations are “a prime target due the frequency of use and the criminal’s ability to install the devices and recover the stolen data undetected,” the Secret Service said.

In California, a major credit card skimming operation was discovered earlier this year in the Bay Area. In that case, officials said they found more than nine blue tooth enabled gas pump skimming devices, cloned debit cards and components to build additional skimming devices.

“Because today’s gas pumps are typically unattended, developing suspects and making arrests in skimming cases is difficult — but not impossible,” the agency said. “The Secret Service is leading the charge to protect the U.S. consumer against this growing cyber-enabled financial crime.”

The electronic skimming devices are tiny and most people won’t know they’ve been victimized until they notice unusual activity on their bank or credit card statements.

“So what happens is you go to your local gas station, you put in your payment card, you pump your gas and you drive home,” Matthew O’Neill, assistant to the special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division, told ABC News. “But in what’s in reality happening is during that transmission process, a skimmer is acting in between where you put your card in and the point of sale terminal that’s transmitting the data to a financial institution and they’re stealing your payment card numbers.”

Once that happens, the scammers have access to your money and all your credit will buy — and the ability to turn your world upside down financially.

“They’re monetizing the stolen payment card data in multiple ways and the easiest way is they’ll take the stolen payment card number and will re-encode a gift card or credit card and then they will use that to buy electronics, gift cards, stuff that they can fence on grey market, the black market or the open market,” O’Neill told the network.

The best advice for travelers hitting the road this summer may be to pay for their gas inside the station, either with cash or a credit card, But with a growing number of them unattended, that’s not an option.

The next best thing is to “wiggle the card reader” and check for signs of tampering, McAllen, Texas, police spokesman John Saenz told television station KGBT after the skimming devices were found there and across the Rio Grande Valley earlier this summer.

“Any signs that a panel at the gas station had been pried open or if a security strip has been removed or tampered with, do not use that terminal,” he said, adding that motorists may also be able to minimize their risk by choosing a pump that’s close to the store entrance.

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