Feds in July Fourth hunt for gas pump card skimmers

With more than 44 million Americans expected to hit the road for Independence Day travel, federal agents took part in a nationwide effort to find and remove illegal credit card skimming devices from fuel stations in 21 states, the Secret Service said Tuesday.

The card-reading devices called “skimmers” are installed by would-be thieves either outside or inside a fuel dispenser, capturing information that can then be used by scammers. 

Agents from 36 field offices this week were inspecting pumps for the devices used to steal encoded information on credit cards and debit cards, with fueling stations a prime target as they are typically unattended and in frequent use. That may offer at least some comfort to Americans already forking over the most in four years to fill up their gas tanks this July 4 holiday.

“The Secret Service is leading the charge to protect the U.S. consumer against this growing cyber-enabled financial crime,” said the agency, which noted it recovered more than 70 of the devices during its recent Memorial Day operation.

Of course the agency’s efforts are no guarantee that such a fraud won’t occur. 

The National Association of Convenience Stores, or NACS, recommends that consumers use a PIN whenever possible, saying it significantly reduces the risk of having information compromised.

If a dispenser door has a broken security tape or looks to have been forced open or tampered with, shut it down and call a technician to inspect it to see if an internal device has been installed, the association advised.

Tell-tale signs of an external skimmer have been placed over an existing keypad include one that is loosely installed and wiggles, according to NACS, which advises running a fingernail along the edge of the keypad to see if it is raised. A new keypad on a weathered-looking dispenser is another warning sign. 

While there’s no reliable data on the number of skimming incidents, once installed, a skimmer captures an average of 30 to 100 cards a day, according to NACS. 

Of course, paying for gas inside the service station is another idea for those willing to take a short walk to reduce the chances of having their card information swiped.

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