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Wed, Oct. 16

How can you avoid credit card skimmers?

Metro Creative

PRESCOTT – State officials have noticed a major upswing in the number of “skimmers” they have discovered attached to gas pumps around Arizona this year, with 12 found in the first two weeks of August and a total of 11 found for all of 2015.

Skimming uses a fake card-reader, mounted on a gas pump that records a victim’s credit or debit card information when he or she inserts the card to pay for gas.

No skimming devices have been found in Yavapai County; the nearest ones were in Kingman.

But customers should still be aware, Yavapai County Sheriff’s spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said.

Criminals appear to have moved to this technology on gas pumps in response to a strong effort by banks to deter ATM skimming, he said.

Some customers have been giving the card reader a yank, because skimmers are frequently attached to the pump with double-sided tape or a glue, and this is recommended by security experts, but it won’t expose all skimmers.

D’Evelyn said, “Sometimes devices are very difficult to detect and placed inside the machine. In most cases, suspects will need to later quickly recover the device to download the card information which will sometimes mean a sloppy skimmer installation that is easier to detect. In rare cases, suspect set skimmers to transmit information to their nearby position.”

He also suggested using the gas pump closest to the cashier’s position, because suspects usually place the skimmers on gas pumps not easily seen by employees.

Two more tips:

• Look for small, pinhole cameras in the area, because they can be set up to record the card user’s PIN. Use two hands to enter the PIN: one to type and the other to shield the keypad from view.

• If any of the tamper-evident labels found on some gas pumps’ face have been damaged, don’t use the card reader. Thieves have been known to open the panel of the real reader and install electronics to steal data without having any outward hardware.

“This type of fraud can occur no matter how careful customers are so this tip is important,” D’Evelyn said. “Consumers are generally better protected if they use a credit or gas card instead of a bank debit card. If you are the victim of fraud, recovering the loss is much easier with your credit card company because of built- in government-required protections” than if the customer uses a debit card.

“The process to recover monies directly stolen from a personal banking account is far more difficult.”

He added that it’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports or bank statements, because some suspects will make small charges to confirm that the card will work for them before charging a larger amount.

Two tips to avoid the whole issue: make your card purchase with the cashier, or simply use cash.

Because there are still some criminals skimming debit card info from bank ATMs, the U.S. Department of the Treasury offers this tips:

  • Walk away from an ATM if you notice someone watching you or if you sense something wrong with the machine; immediately report your suspicions to the company operating the machine or a nearby law enforcement officer.
  • Before using an ATM, examine nearby objects that might conceal a camera; check the card slot for a plastic sheath before inserting your card.
  • Never keep a written copy of your PIN in your wallet or purse as it could be stolen; instead memorize your PIN and keep a paper record hidden at home.
  • Beware of strangers offering to help you with an ATM that appears disabled and notify someone responsible for the security of the machine.
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