It seems that every other day we hear about police finding a credit card skimmer installed on, or inside, a gas pump. It's made many drivers paranoid about swiping their card when filling up their car.
But is there a simple solution to make it almost impossible to install a card skimming device?
Some station owners think so, but it appears the crooks may already be a step ahead of them.
Drivers worry every time they fill up
Every time you pull up to a gas pump and swipe a credit or debit card, there's a risk you are handing your card number to a scammer, who installed a card skimmer. A recent sweep in Ohio turned up 30 skimmers installed on pumps, stealing card information.
Carl Buckholtz of Florence, Kentucky said he worries about it every time he fills up his Harley motorcycle, to the point where he inspects the pump.
"I usually pull on the slot to see if anything's attached because it's such a big epidemic," he said.
Unfortunately, you can't see most skimmers these days because the thieves open the pump with a master key and install the skimmers inside, something they can do in under 20 seconds.
Fewer scammers are placing a large plastic skimmer over the card slot, as those are easy to spot, and station staffers now look for them.
Some gas chains fight back
But some stations, like the T/A chain of highway fuel stops, now put stickers over all opening parts, to make it tougher for the thieves. Shell and Chevron have said they offer security stickers as a option for stations.
At the T/A off Kentucky 18 in Florence, we found a red sticker on the main door, and a smaller hologram sticker on the card slot.
The red sticker has a feature where if it is peeled back or broken, it says "VOID," alerting drivers to contact the staff.
If you see a sticker like that, it tells you that an unauthorized person has not opened up that gas pump recently.
Thieves find way to defeat stickers, too
In theory, the tamper-proof stickers should give you peace of mind.
However, scammers are now finding ways around that too.
A smart thief, armed with these, could place them on the pump's lock door after installing a skimmer, Consumerist says.
Changes coming in next two years
Hamilton County, Ohio, Auditor Dusty Rhodes says things will improve once stations install chip readers, as all gas pumps have in Canada. In the US, gas stations are not yet required to use them, the way stores are.
"Eventually they are going to have this new new technology, and they will be able to thwart a lot of this," Rhodes said, "but that's a couple of years out."
Until then, police say:
- Use a credit card, not a debit card at pumps, so you can stop a fraudulent charge before you lose any money.
- Use the pump closest to the store windows: police say thieves typically install skimmers on pumps that cannot be seen by the store clerk.
- Or pay inside, especially if the station's off an interstate ramp, where criminals can easily come and go.
Speedway, the Cincinnati area's largest gas station chain , did not comment on what they are doing to fight skimmers.
Kroger, meantime, tells 9 On Your Side they have a number of security measures in place that are better than stickers, and says the Auditor's office has commended them for their pump security.
But Kroger doesn't want to say exactly what they are doing, which is probably a good idea.
That way you stay safe and you don't waste your money