The #1 Way To Protect Yourself From Skimmers if You Use a Debit Card at the Gas Station

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Filing up at the gas pump each week may be your normal routine, but there’s a hidden danger to your financial information you need to be aware of: 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.

That’s just one of many reasons why money expert Clark Howard is not a fan of debit cards. And using your debit card as a credit card doesn’t protect you any better.

“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 CardCash Back Benefits
Sam’s Club Mastercard5% on gas purchases
Costco Anywhere Visa®Card by Citi4% on gas purchases
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express3% on gas purchases
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card2% at gas purchases

Read our in-depth guide on the best rewards credit cards for your wallet.

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:

Want to learn more? Read up on how to monitor your credit the right way.

Final Thoughts

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? Read our Gas Saving Guide.