It seems there are endless ways to get robbed these days. Use a credit or debit card at the gas pump and you might get ripped off by a credit card “skimmer.” You’ve probably heard of these before. If you somehow haven’t, here’s how to protect yourself.
Here’s how it goes: bad people go to a gas station and open up a gas pump which is apparently really easy to do. They quickly install a device which records the credit card information of people who buy gas with credit cards at the pump. Later, the bad guys come back, retrieve the data from the skimmer, and use the information to run up all kinds of fraudulent charges on the accounts of the people who had their card information “skimmed.”
And how easy is it to do? Since most gas stations don’t exactly conduct a lot of security, skimmers can get in and out of the pumps in about a minute. They do it with a relatively common key which the gas stations all use, largely because they are lazy. And frankly, they don’t care. The skimmers don’t hurt them as much as they hurt the customers of the station. And it’s happening at an alarming rate these days.
Of course, you find out your information has been skimmed when a bunch of weird charges appear on your account in other states or countries, for gift cards or expensive large items you never received.
What, you didn’t order a huge flat-screen TV to be shipped to Senegal?
You can probably get the charges removed and your account secured after making phone calls and writing a few letters. But it will be a hassle. And those fraudulent charges get passed back to the consumers by way of charges and fees from the card companies. After all, these aren’t charities we are dealing with here.
How to avoid this? Skimmers have to be placed in the pumps so that the attendant does not see it happen. The scammers tend to target the outer pumps at the station—the ones which are harder to see from inside the station. If you can, use the pumps most visible to the attendant.
Also, pumps have seals placed on them by state inspectors who check to make sure the pumps are accurate. If you see that seal broken at the pump, do not use it and tell the attendant.
But the most important thing you can do is watch your account activity. It is easy to do on line. Check every so often to make sure there are no unusual activities.
And once you have made that a habit, rest assured that the scammers will have come up with some other way to make your life more tedious.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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