Scammed at the Pump: Credit Card “Skimmers” Target Local Gas Stations

Recent skimming attacks in South Florida and the Treasure Coast have made St. Lucie County a hotbed for gas pump skimmers. (Image courtesy: Abcnews.com

The use of plastic at the pump is incredibly convenient.  But that convenience comes with a risk.  In the latest trend of credit card scams, thieves are electronically siphoning off account information by bugging gas pumps with “skimmers”—devices that secretly copy credit card numbers from the magnetic stripe on the back of your card, along with your PIN if you type that in for a debit card transaction. The internal skimmers are undetectable from the outside, and, many of the devices are connected to Bluetooth, allowing the thieves on the other end to access account information instantaneously. If hacked by a skimmer, your account could be drained within minutes.

South Florida has been a recent hotbed for gas station skimming with incidents reported in Boynton Beach, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and St. Lucie County.  Although skimmers are difficult to detect, skimming can be avoided.  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) reports more than 78% of gas station patrons pay with credit or debit cards—a statistic that makes thieves happy.  The only sure way to avoid credit card skimmers is to pay with cash; however, consumers who wish to pay with a card should go inside the store and have the clerk make the transaction. Further, customers should be watching for pump tampering or people tinkering with the machines.

Gas stations across the country are aware of the problem and are developing anti-theft measures to prevent skimming.  The spokesman for the NACS, Jeff Lenard, says maintenance checks for skimmers have become a part of general pump inspections, and many stations are placing stickers or tape across the door to the pump that will tear if it’s opened.  Being targeted is partly bad luck, but there are precautions to exercise to minimize your risk:

How To Avoid Being Skimmed

  • Try to use a pump towards the front of the station—thieves often place skimmers in the pumps furthest from the store.
  • Check to see if a sticker or strip of tape over the gas pump dispenser has been altered.  If so, report the issue and drive to another station.
  • If possible, use a credit card over a debit card when purchasing gas.  Credit cards often have better fraud protection.
  • If using a debit card, run the transaction as credit to avoid typing in the PIN.
  • Actively monitor your bank account to catch any unauthorized charges.

I hope this information has made you more aware of the use of skimmers at gas stations.  No one wants to be the victim of a crime or an auto accident.   I am a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer with over 30 years of experience in helping the injured, proudly serving the people of Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Okeechobee.  Call me for a free case analysis and evaluation.

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