As the summer driving season begins, drivers filling up at the gas pump are vulnerable to a slick, growing form of identity theft.
And they may never see it coming.
A credit card skimmer can be installed in gas pumps in seconds and record a customer’s bank account numbers and PIN when they swipe a debit or credit card at the pump. It’s happening more and more, and experts say skimming is likely to continue to rise.
“People have taken advantage of something we no consider routine — swiping a card at the pump,” Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said when he joined Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds at a summit Wednesday to educate consumers, fuel center employees and law enforcement about the devices.
“Right along the (Interstate) 75 corridor has been hit hard,” Keith said. “It is a high traffic area, out-of-towners come in, fill up, get their receipt and later discover it on their statement.”
An experienced thief can install a skimmer in 30 seconds and data is then used to create fake cards with the customer’s bank account or charge account, according to Trooper Fred Applegate, who is assigned to the Ohio Financial Crimes Task Force.
“And in almost every case, you’re not going to know,” Reynolds said.
It is estimated that as many as 70 percent of consumers use a credit card at the pump, with 50 percent of those using a debit card.
Debit cards are a big “no no,” according to officials.
“Never use a debit card,” Applegate said. “(Thieves) will get your PIN information.”
While inconvenient, the “best way to protect yourself is to use cash,” Reynolds said, adding that paying in the store with a debit or credit card is also safer.
Skimming technology is becoming more sophisticated, officials said.
The electronic devices, which can be as small as a thumb drive, are difficult to detect. There are also devices that can read the chip of a debit card just by getting close to a wallet or purse, Applegate said. He suggested using a wallet that will guard against the readers.
Fueling stations have until October 2017 to update pumps with EMV technology, which accommodate credit cards with electronic chips.
But “as long a magnetic strip is on the back, you are still vulnerable,” said Applegate, who himself has been a victim of the skimmers.
Many fuel stations are being proactive in combating skimmers by placing tamper-proof strips over the credit card reader panel.
Applegate suggests drivers inspect the panel for anything that doesn’t look “right,” adding he will even shake the reader panel to see if it seems loose.