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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released sets of tips to help both retailers and consumers avoid skimmers at the gas pump.
Skimmers are illegal devices criminals attach to payment terminals to take data from a credit or debit card's magnetic stripe, then sell the stolen data or use it to make purchases.
Consumers are not the only victims of skimmers. Retailers who are compromised can suffer from associated costs and a damaged reputation.
The FTC advises retailers to include gas pump inspection as part of the daily routine for employees. Companies should also use and track pump security seals, and log the serial numbers of these seals to guard against the use of counterfeit security stickers. Warped or protruding surfaces, such as card readers and PIN pads that are not flush with the pump's door panel, are also warning signs for potential skimmers.
People who claim to be technicians performing unscheduled work should be treated with suspicion. IDs should be checked and scheduled work appointments should be confirmed. Retailers should also check on vehicles that are parked at the gas pump for a long time.
If a skimmer is suspected, retailers should shut down and bag the pump and have it carefully checked for criminal devices.
Consumers can avoid skimmers by checking to make sure the gas pump panel is closed and does not show signs of tampering, such as checking the security seal. They should also compare the card reader itself to other readers at the gas station. If it looks different from the other readers, it could be due to a skimmer.
Additionally, wiggling the card reader before inserting a card may reveal the presence of a skimmer.
Consumers who use a debit card at the pump can choose to run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN, keeping the PIN safe and keeping the money from being immediately deducted from their account if the pump is compromised. If this is not an option, they can cover their hand when entering the PIN, as some criminals use pinhole cameras placed above the keypad area to record PIN entries.
To avoid skimmers at the pump entirely, consumers can also pay inside or select a gas pump near the front of the store, which may be a less likely target due to being in the visual range of attendants.
Away from the gas station, consumers should monitor their credit cards and bank accounts to spot unauthorized charges.