If you’re hitting the road for summer vacation, there’s more reason than ever to be on guard for skimmers, devices that thieves install on ATMs and gas pumps to steal the account data stored on the magnetic stripe of credit or debit cards.
In recent months, banks have reported a sharp rise in this type of crime, especially at gas pumps, where some crooks are using Bluetooth devices to make their job even easier. They can simply park near a station where they’ve tampered with a pump and then download the stolen data onto a laptop.
Why the surge in skimming? Avivah Litan, a senior analyst at Gartner Research specializing in fraud detection and prevention, told us that organized criminal gangs from Eastern Europe have been coming to the U.S. to set up skimming operations and their primary target is the data stored on the magnetic stripe of your debit or ATM card.
“Organized criminals have discovered how easy it is,” Litan says. “Collecting PINs and ATM card data is as good as getting cash. It’s much easier and more lucrative than stealing credit card data and then selling it on the black market.”In Arizona, problems with skimming at gas stations have become so widespread that the governor recently ordered state inspectors to conduct inspections of gas pumps to detect and remove the devices. Another recent report about skimmers installed on pumps at gas stations along Interstate 75 in Florida noted that crooks were using devices equipped with Bluetooth to transmit the stolen data.
Wireless technology also reportedly was used in a wave of skimming at gas pumps earlier this year in Utah. KrebsonSecurity.com provides detailed descriptions of how Bluetooth was used in a rash of recent cases of skimming at gas pumps in Colorado.Consumer Reports has provided advice previously about steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim or mitigating the damage if your data is stolen.
But the bottom line is that if you must use a debit card at the gas pump, select the option that pops up on the screen to have your purchase processed as a credit card transaction rather than typing in your PIN. And of course you can avoid risk altogether if you pay with cash when you fill up.—Andrea Rock