When you pull into a gas station to fuel up, you might face a hidden danger to your financial information: card skimmers. These contraptions are typically configured onto debit/credit card machines to extract sensitive data from them.
Typically done at fuel pumps, ATMs and other payment terminals, card skimming is a form of identity theft and can cost you big money, not to mention a giant headache. But there’s hope.
Card Skimming: How To Protect Yourself at the Pump
In this article, I’ll explain how to protect yourself from card skimmers. I’ll also go over some payment alternatives to keep your money safe.
Although card skimmers can steal from credit cards, debit cards, because of their direct access to your checking account, are especially vulnerable.
“Clearing a debit card as a credit card does not change the lack of consumer protections you have on a debit card. It just makes the bank or credit union more money and costs the merchant more money,” Clark says.
So you may be wondering how can you protect your account when paying for gas at the pump. Here are some safety tips.
Using a Debit Card? Pay Inside
Clark is not totally against debit cards (he does use them to withdraw cash). But if you’re intent on using your debit card, the best way to do it is to pay inside.
Aside from the generally increased level of safety, there are other benefits of paying inside. They include the stronger possibility that the payment machine has not been tampered with as well as the increased likelihood of surveillance cameras inside the gas station.
But if you want to take your security up a notch, it’s best to consider another form of payment.
A Safer Alternative: Credit Cards
The safest way to avoid skimming is to pay with a credit card. (Here’s a good place to mention one of Clark’s strongest recommendations: If at all possible, pay off your balance in full each month!)
You can’t beat the consumer protections that a credit card offers. If you’re the victim of an unauthorized purchase or a fraudulent charge, the card issuer, by law, can’t hold you responsible if you report it within a reasonable timeframe, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Aside from safety, credit cards also offer perks at the pump that aren’t available with debit cards. Here are some major credit cards that offer cash back benefits when you buy gasoline.
|Credit Card||Cash Back Benefits|
|Sam’s Club Mastercard||5% on gas purchases|
|Costco Anywhere Visa®Card by Citi||4% on gas purchases|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||3% on gas purchases|
|Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card||2% at gas purchases|
Regularly Check Your Account
To catch any fraudulent activity, Clark always recommends that you check your account(s) on a regular basis.
The earlier you catch suspicious activity on your account, the less the damage tends to be. Two tools that Clark recommends to lock down your accounts are crediting monitoring and a credit freeze:
- Set up free credit monitoring by joining Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
- Freeze your credit with the major credit bureaus. Here’s a guide.
Want to learn more? Here’s how to monitor your credit the right way.
Card skimming can have devastating effects to your credit, bank account and overall financial life. Protect yourself by inspecting your environment before you pump gas and consider using a credit card.
Want to know more about saving gas? Here are 20+ ways to save.