This Credit Card Scam Pumps Drivers Dry

Swipe when you fill up? Watch your back, Jack.

Matt Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We’ve all left gas stations feeling ripped off, especially when we’re bone-dry and Bob’s U-Fill-It is the only game in a 50-mile radius. But there’s a difference between paying 30 cents more per gallon and having hundreds of dollars in fraudulent charges wind up on your credit card bill.

Presenting the latest trend in stolen identities: skimming. It starts with a small, dongle-like device that thieves are wiring into gas-pump credit card readers to copy account information. They then drive by the station, connect to the little bug via Bluetooth and use the info to create forged cards or buy high-dollar gift cards at retailers like Target.

Instances of skimming have popped up all over the country. In Michigan, state inspectors have found skimming devices in at least 15 pumps since August, according to the Detroit News. Over the summer, skimmers cropped up inside 103 pumps in Florida – or a staggering 1.4 percent of all pumps inspected at that time. In September, inspectors found one in a gas pump outside Seattle. Last year, federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted 13 people on a gas pump scam that allegedly netted $2 million.

So far, gas station owners and authorities don’t have clear solutions other than to suggest paying in cash or fueling at the pump nearest the clerk window. If you see evidence of tampering, such as a broken tape seal, alert the station owner. Some station owners have installed new locks on the pumps. Others may just have to keep a more watchful eye on their surveillance footage.

But like any national credit card scam, it pays to check your statements more than once a month and keep your debit card under wraps, given it draws liquid assets—whereas your credit card company can flag and remedy fraud more easily. Fill up safely, friends.