On top of all the gift cards, clothing and food you'll be buying this holiday season, there's something else you'll probably being spending more on: gasoline.
Nearly 100 million Americans hit the road each holiday season, according to AAA. But making it home for the holidays isn’t without its challenges: on top of traffic and the pitfalls of greasy rest-stop food, travelers need to be on high alert to avoid becoming the target of gas station credit card skimming, which the Secret Service says is on the rise.
How credit card skimmers can steal your info at the gas pump
The Secret Service recently launched Operation Deep Impact in response to the rising threat of credit card fraud at gas pumps during the holiday season. Scammers are turning to gas pumps since they're typically less secure than ATMs and most still use outdated methods of scanning your card's magnetic strip instead of an EMV chip reader.
All scammers need to do is install a special Bluetooth enabled credit card skimming device in the gas pump to copy your card's information when you insert it to pay for your gas. This credit card skimmer then sends your card number to the scammers without them ever even physically retrieving it.
The Secret Service estimates that it recovers 20 to 30 credit card skimmers from gas pumps every week, and each device has information from about 80 cards on it. But by the time the agency recovers the devices, scammers have already begun using the cards. Two states, Florida and Texas, are the most popular regions for gas station credit card skimmers.
How to avoid getting scammed
Credit card skimmers used to be a lot easier to detect. Scammers would install a false keyboard over an ATM keypad, or they'd attach a fake skimmer on top of the gas pump card scanner. You could check for these devices by trying to lift the keypad or wiggling the card entry point. These days, though, the technology scammers use is more sophisticated. The type of device favored by gas station credit card skimmers today is installed inside the pump, so there's no way you can visibly detect it. Still, you should look to see if there are any obvious signs of tampering. It’s best to move to another pump if, for example, the front panel of the pump is loose or ajar, a sign that somebody may have recently opened it.
In either case, your best bet for avoiding credit card fraud is by choosing to pay for your gasoline at the register rather than at the pump. This way you can still earn credit card points, and it could save you weeks of headache dealing with your bank or credit card company.