Paying at the pump could cost extra thanks to skimmers

We've all heard of crooks installing skimmers on ATM machines to steal debit card information, including pin numbers, but a new scheme has been uncovered that is much harder to detect and it happens at a place you might equate with highway robbery -- the gas pump. Reports have come in from across the country of debit card skimmers inside gas pumps that record your debit card number, including PIN, and send it wirelessly to a crook who then makes a fake card and helps himself to your money.

Unlike similar skimming attacks at ATMs, these types of scams are much harder to detect because there is no additional part attached to the outside of the gas pump. Instead, criminals actually open the machine and install a skimmer with a secondary keypad and then close it up and wait for the information to roll in.

While you'd assume that it is difficult to get inside a gas pump and tamper with the card reader, investigators told ABC 4 that it only takes 30 seconds to get inside a pump and install a skimming card reader -- an act that is easily accomplished on a pump at the edge of a camera and out of the clerk's view. The really bad news is that these pumps are often pay at the pump or pre-pay only which means they may see a higher number of credit and debit card use.

Most recently, police in Utah discovered skimmers hidden inside pumps at 180 gas stations, which allowed thieves to steal $11,000 after they created fake ATM cards. Sgt. Troy Arnold told the local ABC affiliate, "Without somebody notifying somebody, this device could actually sit on a gas pump for months on end without anybody ever knowing that it exists." That's exactly what happened at a gas station in California where a skimmer was found in December after capturing customer information for more than two months.

In the initial report, it is stated that consumers will have more protection from skimmers when Visa requires merchants to go to a triple data encryption standard in July of this year, which is a good move, but unfortunately this won't prevent skimming attacks involving second pinpads and modified card readers like those installed inside gas pumps.

Until gas pumps are outfitted with the anti skimming technology that is being developed for ATMs, consumers concerned consumers should use a credit card at the pump or head inside to pay. It is important to note that while using your debit card as credit at the pump won't expose your PIN number to the perps, it doesn't afford you the same protections as using credit.

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