Credit card skimming devices are becoming more popular around the United States and causing a growing number of Americans to have their personal identity stolen by thieves who install these small devices at gas station pumps.
Credit card skimmers are installed on pumps so when a customer swipes their card, their account info is copied from the magnetic strip on the back, according to Consumer Reports. If a person is using a debit card, their PIN is also copied by these devices. The identity thieves then create counterfeit cards using this information to withdraw cash from ATMs or to make purchases.
Many gas pumps can be opened with a master key and criminals are getting their hands on duplicates of these keys to access the inside of the pump and install the skimming device. It is also becoming more popular for criminals to use wireless internal skimmers that send card data to them through a Bluetooth device, which eliminates the need for the criminal to return to the pump to retrieve the skimmer and stolen information stored on it, the Consumer Reports article stated.
"They just need to be within 30 feet of the skimmer, so one guy can go in to buy a Slurpee and distract the clerk while his partner sits in their car near the pumps downloading all of the stolen card data," Al Pascual, senior analyst of security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy & Research, told Consumer Reports.
Hard to Detect
As skimming becomes more common, the technology criminals are using is becoming more advanced. The skimming devices are now harder for law enforcement to find, the Orange County Register reported. In southern California, criminals are making devices from just $50 worth of electronics and installing them at gas stations. Criminals target this area because they believe the people visiting gas stations have a higher income and because the stations are generally empty after 10 p.m., which makes it easier to open the pump and install a skimming device, the article stated.
Sgt. Scott Spalding of the Orange County Sheriff's Department's economic and computer crimes detail told the OC Register that skimming in southern California is a "sophisticated system."
Avoiding Becoming a Victim
Consumer Reports offered some identity theft tips to avoid becoming a victim of skimming at the gas station. Instead of using a credit or debit card, use cash to pay for gas, the source said. If you must use a card, use a credit instead of a debit card, and if you have to use a debit card, never enter your PIN. There should instead be an option that allows you to use a debit card as a credit card.
Raul Vargas is a fraud operations team leader at IDentity Theft 911.