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Skimming is the latest trend to reach into consumer’s pockets around the United States. Here’s some information that anyone using a credit or debit card at ATMs and gas pumps need to know.

What is Skimming:

Skimming refers to the theft of credit and debit card information used in an otherwise legal transaction, like at the gas station or an ATM. In recent cases, skimming has taken place at restaurants by unscrupulous employees who, in the course of running your card for payment, use a skimming device.

A skimmer is a small device that is illegally affixed or installed to the keypad or credit/debit card slot, or in the case of gas pumps, to the inside of the pumps upper chamber. Thieves access the gas pumps using a universal gas pump key that is easily purchased online. They then record a customer’s bank information and have the ability to steal consumers’ identities, potentially charging thousands of dollars and putting consumers at great financial risk.

According to ATM Marketplace, the economic effects of skimming are frightening: more than $2 billion in losses (and rising) at ATMs around the world.

With one swipe, thieves are able to record your account information via the magnetic stripe, and in some cases, copying your PIN number using a carefully placed pinhole camera.  Below are some examples of skimming devices installed at gas pumps:


 skimmer 2

 skimmer 3


Tips at the Pump:

  • Use pumps closest to the attendants and be aware of lighting conditions. The darkest, furthest pump is a thief’s ideal target.
  • Pay inside and use cash when possible. Credit and debit cards account for more than half of all U.S. gasoline purchases, making it all too easy for thieves to acquire your information. If you must use plastic, opt for a credit card or use the option that allows you to process your debit card purchase as a credit card transaction. Avoid using your PIN whenever possible.
  • Check the condition of the pumps and pay attention to details. Sometimes there are slight abnormalities that you may detect. If it looks suspicious or if you spot any sign of tampering, immediately notify an attendant and make sure the police are called.
  • Look around. Some thieves use blue tooth technology which requires them to be within a certain distance of the pump. If a person or car seems to be lingering for too long notify an attendant.


Tips to Protect your Money:

  • Monitor your bank account daily and check your credit card statements. Notify your bank or card issuer if anything looks unusual or if you spot fraudulent charges.
  • Download your banking institution’s online app, if available, and enroll on online banking.
  • Sign up for fraud alerts.
  • Do your own research at home to become familiar with skimming & trends in your area.


If you are a victim of skimming:

  • Contact your bank and close any accounts opened or used fraudulently. Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges, but you must act as soon as you discover a charge or purchase that shouldn’t be there.
  • File a report with the police.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Contact the three major credit reporting agencies TransUnion, Experian and Equifax to check that no credit applications have been made in your name

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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