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Protect Yourself from Gas Pump Skimmers

02/25/2021

Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott knows that gas-pump card skimming continues to be a concern during the pandemic, as fraudulent payment transactions have increased recently. Here is what you need to know about how the scam works, and why you should avoid paying with a debit card when fueling up.
 
What is card skimming - Card skimming is when a thief uses a small device to steal your credit or debit card information when it is used for a normal transaction, like buying gas at the pump. When the card is swiped, the device steals the banking information stored in the magnetic stripe such as your account number, full name, the card's expiration date, and the country code. Sometimes these devices will also contain a pinhole camera or a fake keypad which will also steal your PIN.
 
Older gas pumps are particularly vulnerable to card skimming as they rely on technology that only reads the magnetic stripe data on a card (even if the card has a chip). The chance of having your card skimmed increases when the gas station is not monitored by cameras, gas attendants or other customers.
 
Gas pumps are getting an upgrade - Fortunately, credit card companies have required fuel merchants to upgrade their pumps so that they follow the "EMV standard" (which stands for Europay, Mastercard, Visa), which relies on scanning the chip in your card, not the magnetic stripe. To encourage compliance, the new standard shifts the liability for a fraudulent transaction from the credit card company to the merchant if the machines are not upgraded. The deadline for compliance was last October but has been pushed to April 2021 due to the pandemic.
 
Fuel merchants have been slow to adopt these new standards, so it is unlikely that all gas stations will be compliant by the deadline. However, the chance of theft should decrease once the standard is more widely adopted.
 
How to avoid getting skimmed at the gas pump - Your safest bet is to simply not use any card at the gas pump, period. Instead, pay inside the gas station, ideally one with a chip reader at the terminal.
 
If you are going to pay at the pump, however, at least consider using a credit card instead of a debit card. Debit cards do not have the same zero-liability fraud policy as credit cards, and a compromised debit card can take weeks or months to sort out. Worse, you likely will not see that stolen cash returned for some time. Otherwise, trust your gut at pump payment terminals: If it does not look right, use another pump, or even try another gas station.
 
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