Tips, Tricks & Trends

How Do You Tell if There Is a Card Skimmer on a Gas Pump?

Have you ever pumped gas into your car only to get home and receive alerts from your bank about erroneous charges? If so, then you could be a victim of card skimming, in which a thief attaches a device to the gas pump in order to retrieve a customer’s credit card information. But how can you tell if there is a card skimmer attached to the gas pump that you’re using?

What is a credit card skimmer?

A credit card skimmer is a device that a thief or thieves can attach to an ATM, gas station pump, or any other type of card transaction machine in order to steal credit card information from patrons, according to Security National Bank.

A customer swipes her credit card at a gas pump in a Conoco gas station.
A customer swipes her credit card at a gas pump in a Conoco gas station. (Photo by Matt Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

RELATED: Now They’re Banning Gas Stations

What does a card skimmer look like and where can they be found?

A customer prepares to scan her credit card while getting fuel at a Road Ranger gas station.
A customer prepares to scan her credit card while getting fuel at a Road Ranger gas station. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The most common place that you’ll find a credit card skimmer is a gas station. Since gas stations have many customers constantly coming and going, it’s easy for thieves to attach a skimmer to the terminal at the pump or even inside at the register.

In some cases, the thief will install a hidden camera above the card terminal on the pump in order to gain access to customers’ PIN numbers. Other thieves will install fake keypads or card reader extensions that mimic the look of the terminal in order to steal your card’s information when you slide it in the slot.

Thieves will typically return to the scene from time to time in order to retrieve their skimmers. However, there are also ways for thieves to use Bluetooth technology to retrieve the credit card information from the skimmer without even having to be there.

RELATED: Here Are the States Where You Don’t Have to Pump Your Own Gas

Detecting a gas pump skimmer

A customer slides her credit card into a gas pump as she prepares to fill her truck with gas at a Chevron station.
A customer slides her credit card into a gas pump as she prepares to fill her truck with gas at a Chevron station. | (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

While credit card skimmers can sometimes be tough to detect, it’s important to be able to at least identify the basic traits of a card skimmer that’s attached to a pump. Here are a few tips that the Security National Bank suggests:

  • Check the pump for tampering: Thieves typically have a universal key that they use to open the door on the gas pump. Fortunately, many gas stations place a tamper-resistant seal on the door. If you see that the tamper strip is broken, use a different pump.
  • Inspect the card slot and keypad: Inspect the card slot by wiggling it with your hand, if it is loose, then it could be a skimmer. Also, if the keypad looks thicker than normal, wiggle that too and check if it comes loose. If either of these parts does come loose, then use another pump.
  • Look for hidden cameras: Some thieves use cameras to steal PIN codes from customers. Check for tiny pinhole cameras or false screen shades above the screen on the pump. If anything, be sure to cover the keypad with your hand to block any potential cameras from seeing your PIN code.

Other tips to prevent getting your card info stolen

Aside from taking the aforementioned measures in order to detect any potential skimmers, you can also skip using the keypad entirely by opting to run your debit card as a credit card. If you’re wary of using the terminal at the pump, then you can go inside the store and use the one at the register instead.

Also, since thieves would rather stay out of sight of the employee inside the store, they will usually install a skimmer farther away from it. That means that the gas pump closest to the store is more likely to be safer to use.

Ultimately, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your bank accounts after you fill up your car. That way, you’ll know if your card was skimmed. If it was, be sure to report it to your bank and law enforcement so that they can take the proper measures to return your money and possibly prevent any future harm to others.