Credit Card Security Best Practices – How To Stay Secure At Gas Stations

The use of “card skimmers” (illegal card readers attached to payment terminals that grab data off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe without the owner’s knowledge) hit mainstream prevalence in the last few years. These skimmers were being installed at gas stations across the country at an increasing rate, prompting the FTC to release an official warning.

This scam was a step back in credit card security, which had been greatly advanced by the innovation of EMV chips. Since the increase in instances of card skimmer scams, consumers have been more worried about using their credit cards at the gas pump – this is precisely what members of the Nexus IT Consultants team appeared on Mountain Connections to talk about recently:

“A lot of people don’t think about this being a cybersecurity-type of situation,” said Earl Foote, CEO, Nexus IT. “The reality is that it is – there are cybercriminals that use these card skimmers to steal your credit card info and use it to make purchases, or to sell it.”

While credit card fraud is frustrating, it is possible to sort it out with your credit card company and avoid having to pay for the cybercriminal’s purchases. However, Earl noted that cybercriminals may also recreate your debit card, and use it to siphon cash out of your account – something that is much harder to fix after the fact.

Can You Spot A Card Skimmer?

In some cases, you will be able to spot a card skimmer attached to the outside of the card reader. A good habit to follow is to give a small tug on the reader before you insert your card. If there is a skimmer attached, it will often come off in your hand. Furthermore, if the card slot is very tight, don’t force your card in.

However, it’s important to note that some criminals are able to get directly into the payment console and install their skimmer in the machine, where you won’t be able to see it. This is not as common, but it still occurs.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud?

There are a few best practices to keep in mind anytime you’re using your credit card at the gas pump, at the ATM, or at the self-checkout in the grocery:

  • Don’t Use The Card Reader.
    If you’re at all suspicious that there’s a card skimmer installed at the pump you’re using, simply go inside and pay with your chip at the register, or use a wireless payment method (via your card’s “tap” capability, or with your mobile wallet on your smartphone).
  • Use Credit Instead Of Debit.
    If a criminal gets your credit card info, any purchases they make can be put under scrutiny by your credit card company. If they get your debit card info and withdraw your cash directly, that’s much harder to track and reverse.
  • Only Use Chip Readers.
    Many gas stations will now offer a chip reader-based payment console, which are much more secure than swipe-style readers, or the type that require you to insert your entire card.
  • Take Advantage Of Your Bank’s Security Features.
    Check with your bank if they offer notification capabilities for the activity on your credit or debit cards. Either through email or your mobile banking app, you can often arrange to receive a notification when a purchase is made over a certain amount. This will help you track the use of your credit and debit cards.

At the end of the day, personal cybersecurity comes down to the effort you make to stay safe. Don’t get lazy – keep an eye out for card skimmers, and don’t take any risks you’re unsure about.

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