The Rise of the Wisconsin Credit Card Skimmer
Whether you’re traveling for work, family, or just out running some errands, keep your eyes as much on the gas pump as you do the road this winter. Recent news reports show a steep uptick in the amount of credit card skimmers found across Wisconsin, with a special concentration of skimmers found in the Madison region.
How To Spot a Skimmer
Credit card skimmers are becoming more popular among thieves as a way to obtain your account information to commit credit card fraud. Unfortunately, the criminals are also getting smarter.
There are two types of skimmers typically found at gas stations. The more common of the two is the external skimmer. This one is easier to spot with an untrained eye, but if you are not paying attention you may become a victim. Thieves usually attach the skimmer directly over the card slot on the gas pump. Because this is designed as a temporary placement of only one day or just a matter of hours, it is normally attached with double-sided tape. This allows the thief to pull the skimmer off with little effort to avoid suspicion.
The other type of skimmer involves much more effort and planning from the crook. The internal skimmer is placed inside the actual gas pump behind the door that houses the credit card reader/number keypad and has cables with an in-line recording device running between the card reader and main board. A criminal will need privacy and time to get this skimmer installed, but once it is in the pump, it is virtually undetectable to an everyday consumer.
The following steps will help customers at the pumps keep their information (and money) safe:
- Skimmers are usually found in the pumps farthest away from the gas station. Get in the habit of using the ones closer to the building.
- Tug and tap firmly on the card slot of the card reader on the pump. If an external skimmer is installed it may move or even pop right off.
- When typing your PIN into the number pad with one hand, use your other hand as a shield between the top of the area where the keypad is located and your hand. Some crooks will install a pinhole camera here in order to obtain your code.
- If an internal skimmer has been installed you may notice tampering on the lock of the door. Also take a good look at the tamper-evident sticker that is placed across the seam of the door. If someone has gained unauthorized access to the inside of the pump, the sticker may read VOID across it. This only shows up if someone has tried to remove the sticker and place it back on to avoid detection. Or if the label is cut or missing entirely, do not use the pump and report it to a gas station attendant immediately.
- Give in to all the paranoia and just use cash. This will avoid the need to worry about the skimmers once and for all.
- If you insist on using plastic, go into the station and pre-pay the gas station attendant.
One more thing to be aware of at gas stations, or anywhere there are typically a lot of customers coming and going: some thieves are using an electronic pickpocket device. This is becoming less popular as the credit/debit cards are now being manufactured with different security chips. But if you are among the few that still carry a card with an RFID chip you could become the next unsuspecting victim of credit card fraud. An electronic pickpocket does not need you to even remove your card from your wallet or pocket. They only need to stand within inches of you for a few seconds and the device they have in their pocket can read your card information. This is not a common occurrence too much anymore, but good to be aware of. To keep yourself safe, watch for people who are walking or standing just a little too close to you. One other option, which may be a great way to start a conversation with the cashier, is to wrap your card in tinfoil while it is tucked away in your wallet.
Parting Suggestions: Stay Alert and Work With Your Bank
Bottom line: Stay alert when at the pumps and review your bank and credit card accounts regularly. Report anything suspicious to authorities immediately.
What say you, readers? Have any of you been affected by a credit card skimmer, and if so, how did you go about reporting the scam and protecting yourself against future thievery?