Gas Station "Skimmers" Steal Your Credit Card Info When You Pay At The Pump

In case you weren’t aware, a skimmer is a tiny device that reads your credit card number and delivers it to the bad guys.

Steve, our friend over at the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures sent us this photo of a “skimmer.”

Arizona’s very first credit card skimmer was found at a gas station on May 30th, so the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures is taking steps to ensure that other skimmers that may have been installed are located.

How can you, as a consumer, tell if a skimmer has been installed before you pay? That’s the trouble. You can’t. The device is tiny and has to be installed inside the credit card machine. It’s a troubling problem. How are the scammers gaining access to the gas station credit card machines? How can they be stopped?

The best thing you can do is check your credit card statements for fraudulent activity. Never assume that just because the card is in your wallet, it’s safe. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Arizona Department of Weights And Measures)

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  1. Steve518 says:

    So this is why I got a call from Chase wondering how I was blowing a wad in Johannesburg Saturday after buying gas in Albany on Friday?

  2. nweaver says:

    Who cares? As long as you pay with a REAL credit card, the fraud protections are such that you aren’t on the hook.

    WHat you worry about is skimmers & cameras on ATM machines. Now THOSE can F@#)(* up you bad.

  3. mopar_man says:

    How about just paying with cash and not having to worry about it?

  4. bnet41 says:

    @mopar_man:

    Honestly, I hate carrying too much cash around, but with gas stations you have to go in, pre-pay, and then fill up, and then go and get your change.

    It really can be a pain, and I would prefer the gas stations do more to prevent this.

  5. nweaver says:

    bnet: The gas station cares, bigtime.

    Because of how the merchant agreements work, the merchant who leaks card data can be in SERIOUS S@#)(*.

    As I said, just use a real credit card (not a debit card) and who cares if you get skimmed, its not your money.

  6. zentec says:

    @nweaver:

    That’s my question; if the gas station’s security policies are so lax that someone can get in there and install these devices, they need to be financially penalized. If the station management installs them, then they probably are doctoring with the pumps to short the delivery of gasoline too.

    As far as not using the credit cards, that’ll never happen. I have significant financial advantage to using my card because it gives me a 5% rebate on gasoline and 1% on everything else. I never use cash nor a debit card because I get rewarded with a check at the end of each year for spending money on necessities. Plus I get protections I wouldn’t get using a debit card, and I don’t have to stand in line behind people who take three minutes to figure out what instant lottery tickets they want in order to pay for my gasoline.

  7. Buran says:

    @mopar_man: How about not being out money if your wallet gets stolen?

    Any station that does this to me, if I can prove it, is going to get reported to every government agency I can find for illegally storing my credit information. It’s their equipment, their fault if they (since anyone opening the pump has to get access from the station or the pump supplier which I’m sure has to go through the station) act illegally.

    Maybe even sued.

  8. mopar_man says:

    @bnet41:

    EVERY gas station around you does that? I’ve seen some do it after a certain time (usually 11PM – 6AM).

    @Buran:

    You mean the same wallet with your credit card in it?

  9. saram says:

    @mopar_man

    Yes, Buran means the same wallet with his credit card in it. Because when his credit card is stolen, he simply calls the bank and cancels it, no harm no foul. None of his money is gone for good. Even if purchases are made before he cancels it, his bank will take care of those charges and he is not out any money. Your cold hard cash, however, has disappeared for good. It is immediately gone, and you’ll never get it back.

  10. pestie says:

    The device is tiny and has to be installed inside the credit card machine.

    No, actually, it doesn’t have to be installed inside the machine. That’s the best place to conceal one, but they can be made to fit on the outside of the card slot, too (so when you insert your card, it slides through the skimmer first). There have been plenty of cases where a dual-purpose stripe-reader/camera were placed on the outside of an ATM. The devices are disguised to look like part of the ATM itself. The skimmer reads the magstripe data and the camera records you typing your PIN.

    @Buran: Dude, chill! First of all, there’s nothing illegal about a business storing your credit card info. Second, every gas pump I’ve ever seen is secured with a tubular lock, which is almost trivially easy to pick with the right type of lockpick (which aren’t hard to get online and cost anywhere from $70 – $200). So it’s not a given that anyone accessing the guts of the pump must be associated with the store. And I doubt any government agency is going to give a rat’s ass unless you happened to be skimmed as part of a much larger organized criminal action. The FBI, for example, doesn’t want to hear from anyone unless the losses are $100K or so.

  11. Munkeyhatecleen says:

    I predict this to be more of a problem in states where you can’t pump your own gas… I once stopped for gas in NJ (all stations there are full service) and less than two weeks later several hundred dollars worth of groceries were charged to my card in GUAM! A lot of the full service stations there, you hand the dude your card and he walks off to his little booth with it. It would be wayyy easier to install a skimmer on that machine than at a self-service station.

  12. Justinh6 says:

    Can purchases be made without knowing the CID number on the back of the card itself?

    Does the skimmer grab the CID number?

    I thought that the information wasn’t stored on the card itself, but only imprinted on the back of it.

  13. cde says:

    @Justinh6: Not all online merchants have updated their systems to include checking for the CID. And you can also clone the card info onto another credit card, or even a hotel card with a card writer (About 70~200 dollars). When was the last time you been checked for your credit card or ID at an in store purchase?

  14. puka_pai says:

    Keep in mind, too, that a lot of places have 24-hour gas pumps even if the store isn’t open then. The gas station outside our local grocery store is like that. You can only pay with plastic, of course, when the store is closed. It would be relatively simple for a scammer to install his skimmers in those pumps when nobody is around. You don’t need to have a confederate in the station if the pumps are unsecured.

  15. mattbrown says:

    Noooo!!! I’m soo scared. First the TB outbreak that will kill out the entire population of the Western world and now this?! It’s the last sign of the Apocalypse.

  16. gamble says:

    @nweaver: It’s still a problem, especially for people who use their credit cards to pay bills and such. If someone maxes out your card, it’s going to take awhile to sort out all the fees and crap you’ll encounter when you try to pay your bills. Not to mention the hassle of canceling your card and getting a new one.

  17. mac-phisto says:

    man, these things suck. there was a group of people that skimmed cards out of a chinese restaurant here in connecticut. every time the feds came close to catching them, they shut down operations, sold the business & opened a new one under a new name a few miles down the road. they’ve been operating in the rte. 7 corridor for years – i don’t know if they’ve been caught yet or not.

    @mopar_man: ever since gas prices have gone above $2.40, even the more liberal stations around me have turned from pump first to pay first. i remember reading a story about a philadelphia gas station that tried to press charges against a gas thief that was a repeat offender. it seemed like an open/shut case (they had photos & everything), but the thief walked free b/c the judge determined that the station had colluded to the theft by allowing the release of the goods before they were paid for. wtf?!?

    anyway, the times of pump first seem to have passed…

  18. Buran says:

    @therasett: Hers. ;)

  19. saram says:

    @ Buran

    Previously Posting as Therasett – >

    Sorry! She She She :)