5 ways to outsmart credit card skimmers at ATMs and gas stations

Having your credit card information stolen is likely the last thing you’d want to happen in the thick of the holiday season.

But it’s probably happening at a gas station or ATM near you. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating several card skimmers found this week at a Kwik Fill station at the corner of West Henrietta and Jefferson Roads in Henrietta, and at a Plank Road Sunoco station in Penfield, according to spokesman Cpl. John Helfer.

A skimmer is a clandestine device designed to steal credit card information by “skimming” the magnetic strips on cards swiped at ATMs or gas stations. They’re often attached to the credit card slot on a gas pump or ATM, and sometimes they come complete with a camera that’ll capture you punching in your Personal Identification Number, or PIN.

It’s difficult to know how long the skimmers found by the county’s department of weights and measures this week had been there, said Helfer, but police are evaluating surveillance video to find out when the devices may have been placed.

Multiple skimmers were found at an Avon gas station last month, and several years ago, a band of thieves stole more than $2 million from gas pumps across Texas, Georgia and South Carolina using Bluetooth-enabled skimming devices. Instances of compromised debit cards at U.S. ATMs and merchants rose 70 percent in 2016, according to data from FICO Card Alert Service.

So how do you protect yourself? Here are a few tips:

Anything look out of the ordinary?

Take a second at a gas pump or ATM and observe your surroundings — does the credit card slot or PIN pad look loose or out of place? Skimmers can be placed on top of the real credit card machine or inside the credit card slot. Try tugging at the payment terminal — sometimes skimmers come right off, like this one.

Check the other gas pump payment terminals — do they look like the one you’re using? Do a quick scan for anything that looks like a camera pointing at the pump or PIN pad.

Protect your PIN, if you use it at all

It’s best not to use your debit card with your PIN number at a gas pump if you can help it. If you must, cover the pad with your other hand while you punch in the digits, or simply pay inside. Fraudsters are less likely to tamper with a payment terminal at a clerk’s counter.

Use bank ATMs, or those in well-lit, busy areas

While skimmers have been found on bank lobby ATMs as well, it’s less common. Thieves often target stations or ATMs that are off the main drag, or in badly lit areas.

Use a chipped card or other payment options

Almost everyone has a chipped, or “EMV,” card nowadays, and having one significantly decreases your chances of getting skimmed, because the data on the card is constantly changing and is difficult to extract. Bad news: Hackers get smarter all the time, and some point-of-sale terminals aren’t updated to allow the use of EMV cards. While not 100 percent fail-proof, using an EMV card makes it much harder to steal your personal info.

Payment methods like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay allow you to make purchases without a card, which cuts out the opportunity for a physical skimmer to do its dirty work.

Keep an eye on your accounts

In any circumstance, it helps to watch your bank accounts for any odd or unusually large charges. You can set up text or email alerts to ping your mobile phone when charges hit your account — such as purchases made without a card swipe, or gas station purchases — allowing you to immediately address any potential fraudulent withdrawals.

STADDEO@Gannett.com

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