Watch Out for Card-Skimming Devices

Here’s how consumers and businesses can protect themselves against this aggressive scam tactic.

February 08, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A card skimming device was found on a gas pump in Chemung County in New York state, reports the Utica Observer-Dispatch. The skimmer was installed on a gas pump at the College Avenue Speedway in the Village of Elmira Heights.

Village Police Chief Rick Churches told the Observer-Dispatch he was familiar with the device after being involved in a previous investigation of a group of scammers that installed skimmers at fuel pumps in Broome, Albany and Montgomery counties, capturing nearly 4,000 cards. The incidents happened between 2016 and 2018, and in 2019, seven people were indicted in connection with the scam.

"The crudeness of this device does not lead us to believe it was one of these types of groups, but we’re not 100% certain on that," Churches told the Observer-Dispatch. "We made regional law enforcement intelligence aware of this particular one in case there are others that are similar."

Credit-card skimming at the fuel pump’s point of sale (POS) is an aggressive tactic used by scammers to illegally obtain consumer card data for fraudulent purposes. Although law enforcement officials are equipped to track these criminals, they urge businesses and consumers to be more aware of this threat.

It's part of an ongoing cycle, Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives, told the Observer-Dispatch.

"It is a problem across the country. Criminal groups go to different areas," Lenard said. "They work an area until it is no longer profitable and move on."

Consumers can protect themselves by being aware of their surroundings, according to the New York State Division of Consumer Protection, which recommends looking for hidden cameras, reviewing bank and credit card statements regularly and carefully inspecting any card-reading device before using it.

Lenard told the Observer-Dispatch not to mindlessly insert your card into the reader at the gas pump without paying attention to what it looks like.

"Look for part of the equipment that looks loose, like it's glued or Velcroed in. That's a tipoff," he said. "If it seems too shiny compared to everything else, that could be an indicator."

Anyone who senses something is off about a gas pump card reader should complete their transaction inside the store and alert the staff to their suspicions, Lenard told the Observer-Dispatch.

For retailers, the big question is "How do you harden your target?" Lenard said.

That's not an easy question to answer, because most retailers don't think like criminals, he told the Observer-Dispatch.

"You really have to shift your business mindset from serving customers to seeing how would criminals look at your business," Lenard said.

"To install a skimmer, they need to open the dispenser. You want to look at your dispensers, as an owner or a customer," he told the Observer-Dispatch. "If it looks pried open, or something is askew, probably someone forced it open to put a skimmer in there."

NACS offers resources to help retailers prevent skimming and protect payments at the pump. Visit the Skimming and Payments Security topics page, and listen to Convenience Matters podcast episode No. 160, “Skimming, Shimming, Shamming, Etcetera.”