Protection at the Pump: Scamming Skimmers

Protection at the Pump: Scamming Skimmers

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Call it what you like: skimming, shimming, bluesnarfing – it all ends the same – by ripping you off!

Each day, around 40 million Americans stop at a gas station. Every time you use your credit or debit card to buy gas, there’s a chance someone is trying to steal your personal info.

But there are some things you can do to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.

John Albert is a program administrator for the Missouri Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures Division. He says it's very easy for a thief to install a card skimmer. He says, "It takes about 27 seconds from start to finish, that’s my own installation time, to go in here, open it, plug that device in here and be gone and have it Bluetoothing to my laptop over in this vehicle.”

He says the old scams used tiny cameras and overlays, but the thieves are getting more creative.

Albert says, “The overlays are becoming a thing of the past from what we see. It's becoming much more popular to do the internal because it’s less noticeable and they’re really quick to install and already pre-wired for the specific brand and device.” Those internal devices are impossible for a consumer to see.

A smart crook can make a skimmer out of a few basic parts from any electronics store.

Skimmers also can be bought on the dark web, which is coincidentally where your stolen personal info is also sold.

Albert says only seven have been found in Missouri. He says, "The host or the owner seldom knows that they are there. When we do find one, we contact law enforcement because we want them to take possession and get the custody transfer in the right way. It’s very difficult to track because obviously these people are usually long gone. Some people never attempt to recover the device since they’re so inexpensive.”

There are some simple things you can do to help avoid getting your info stolen.

Use a credit card – not debit – if you can. Credit cards offer more protection against fraud. Check your bank statements regularly and sign up for fraud alerts. One resource is

Check for the visible skimmers. Jiggle the card slot on the pump to ensure that it’s secure.

Since the pumps use universal keys, a thief can easily get them. You can’t see the skimming device from the outside, but you can look to see that the seal on the machine is intact. If that seal is broken, use another pump or go to another gas station. Usually, only one pump at the station is compromised.

The crooks prefer pumps that are farthest away from the person working the register, so look for a pump closer to the employee’s field of vision.

Also, you could pay inside. It’s not foolproof but it is harder for a thief to put a skimmer inside the store than at a gas pump.

There are also a couple of apps you can get to detect a suspicious Bluetooth signal and avoid becoming a victim of bluesnarfing.

Albert says, "As we move toward chip technology and away from mag strip technology, that’s when we’re going to see this go away. So until such time as that happens, we'll be looking at the possibility of this happening.”

If you see something suspicious, report it to the station where the pump is and you can also contact the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Albert says all reports are investigated in a timely manner.

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