Concern is on the rise about identity theft and credit card fraud as it becomes more and more prevalent. Of particular interest right now is a device called a skimmer which has even been found in Preston. A skimmer is a portable device hidden in card readers that passively records card data when a card is inserted.
While a skimmer can be placed in any store or ATM, gas stations are a prime target. They have high traffic and easy access but the defining factor is that in 2017 the deadline for gas pumps to switch to chipped card readers was extended three years. Installing EMV-chip card readers is a costly and complex upgrade for gas stations, industry experts say, in part because they must replace the entire pump.
The new design makes it much more difficult for thieves to tamper with the pump, particularly the interior where many skimmers are now found. The new pumps include raised metallic keypads, horizontal card readers and custom locks for each pump. They also have tamper protections that physically shut down a pump if the machine is improperly accessed.
Newer pumps may also include more modern mobile payment options which allows customers to pay for fuel without ever sharing their credit or debit card account details, but many stations advertising this capability have not enabled it yet.
“This morning I heard a news story on the radio reporting that identity theft associated with card skimming is on the rise all over the United States,” said Chief of Police Mike Peterson. “I know we have had some cases here in the City of Preston, which has caused some of our citizens and businesses grief. There is no fool proof way of identifying card skimmers at gas pumps and ATM machines, there are so many devices that are easily installed, but there are a couple of things we can do to avoid being victimized.”
Some of those things are:
• Pay inside, with cash or a credit card, rather than at the pump.
• Choose gas pumps closest to and within sight of cashiers.
• Use ATMs in well-lit, secure locations. Avoid standalone ATMs in corners of stores or out-of-the-way areas.
• Look at the card reader slot and surrounding areas for anything that looks out of place, mismatched, or loose. You can try to wiggle the card reader before you put in your card. If it moves, report it to the attendant and use a different pump.
• Make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, or filming you on a cell phone If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, the PIN is safe and the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account. If that’s not an option, cover your hand when entering your PIN. Scammers sometimes use tiny pinhole cameras, situated above the keypad area, to record PIN entries.
• Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges and set up fraud alerts on your credit cards..
Some variations on skimmers have emerged as people become better at avoiding the original exterior skimmers. A khimmer is placed inside the card reader slot and targets EMV chipped cards. Also, Bluetooth is now being used to transmit data so that thieves don’t have to retrieve the skimmer but can sit in a vehicle 100 yards away while credit and debit card information is transmitted to their laptop. This is called bluesnarfing or blue skimming.
A newer option for protection that minimizes the effectiveness of these new skimmers is to not use a physical card at all. People with smartphones probably have the ability to set up a digital wallet. With this option the credit card company sends a randomly generated 16-number token or code to the smartphone as a stand-in credit card number and the card never goes in the payment reader that may contain a skimmer.
Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay – or mobile wallets from the card issuer, bank or gas station – paying by phone is an incognito way to fuel up or withdraw cash at an ATM offering cardless access.
Smart phones can also detect Bluetooth signals, which is another way to protect one’s identity. While a search for bluetooth connections will reveal any in the area, the phone’s user may not know quite what to look for. A free Skimmer Scanner Android app released in September 2017 makes it easier to check for Bluetooth skimmers in the area. The app works by looking for a Bluetooth module nearby that’s commonly used in modern credit card skimmers. As smart as these skimmers are, all of them currently use the same Bluethooth module. If a smartphone detects a skimmer, using a different pump or going to a different gas station is advised.
While one cannot completely eliminate the risk associated with using credit and debit cards, it is possible to greatly reduce chances of falling prey to these crimes if one is vigilante and takes the recommended precautions.
In Preston there are some gas stations that have the newer style pump and many businesses such as Stokes Marketplace that offer payment through Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet or other forms of mobile payment.