If you watch the news there's no doubt that you've heard of debit or credit card skimming at a gas station or ATM. This crime occurs when a criminal attaches an electronic device (skimmer) to the inside or outside of an ATM machine, retail point of sale (POS) machine or gas pump in attempts to collect credit or debit card numbers and PIN numbers. This crime had been detected across the county, throughout Minnesota, and in Eagan.

Consumers typically worry about credit card fraud when making purchases online or conducting ATM transactions, but over the past few years, fraudulent credit card activity has taken the form of gas station scams that use technology to victimize patrons. The key to staying safe is understanding how to protect yourself from identity theft and credit card fraud.

By practicing these security measures before swiping a credit card at the gas pump, you can protect yourself from identify theft and credit card fraud.

External skimmers are devices that thieves attach over a real credit card slot at a gas station pump. As customers swipe their cards into the skimmer, the device saves and stores card information immediately.

What to look for: If a credit card slot looks different from the other card readers at the station, it might be a setup for a credit card skimming fraud.

What to do: Skimming devices are meant to be placed temporarily for a matter of hours or just a day. For that reason, they are often attached using only double-sided tape, so thieves can easily remove them. Before sliding a credit card through the machine, tug on the reader to ensure it is securely attached; skimmers will easily pop off with little effort.

Criminals usually infiltrate credit card mechanisms by opening the front panel of gas pumps with a universal key. They implant devices internally, and these devices then capture the credit card information from within once customers swipe their cards.

What to look for: Survey the gas pump's edges especially the door that allows access to the internal mechanisms of the gas pump and credit card port.If it looks battered, as if someone tried to pry it open, or if the lock itself is broken, it might be compromised. Some gas stations apply tamper-proof security tape across the opening of the gas pump door. When the door is opened, the sticker is lifted revealing the words "VOID" on the sticker. Criminals may also cut the security tape with a knife.

What to do: Only patronize stations that use security tape. Before using a gas pump, find out whether the pump has a tamper-evident sticker. If it has one that is placed on the unit correctly across the opening of the door and it reads "VOID," or had been cut, do not use that gas pump, inform the gas station attendant, and call the police.

Intact Pump SealBroken Pump Seal

If you have a choice of pumps, choose the pump closest to the cashier. Criminals are less likely to apply credit card skimmers so close to the attendant. You should still be wary of credit card skimmers and verify that there is tamper-evident stickers on the pump closest to the cashier.

While credit cards provide convenience, if a situation just doesn't feel right, go with your instincts and just use cash. It saves the hassle of disputing a credit card charge in the future and eliminates the chance of putting yourself at risk of long-term credit damage.

If cash isn't a possibility, cardholders also have the option of handling the transaction with the gas station attendant. Customers do still take on a small risk,as there is no guarantee that the employee isn't using a credit card skimmer behind the counter, but can avoid the risks of pinhole cameras and gas-pump credit card readers that have been tampered with.

Credit cards typically have better fraud protection measures, and money is not deducted immediately from your bank account. Credit cards and banks have measures set up for credit card fraud detection; consider taking advantage of these tools. For example, you might consider setting up a credit fraud alert on your accounts so you can know immediately of any fraud charges or if your account security is compromised.

Checking your statements regularly can help you catch any abnormal charges. When you receive your statements, you should go through each of the transactions and verify that you made all of the charges. If you see any abnormal or repeat charges, then you should contact your bank immediately to inquire about the charge and report it as theft, if necessary.

Criminals sometimes opt to use the information they gather as tools to find more information about you in the hopes of stealing your identity. By regularly monitoring your credit report, you're more likely to catch and stop this activity before it gets out of hand. As a consumer, you're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). You can request them all at one time, or spread them out throughout the year.

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