Summer is a popular time for vacations and traveling.  While we are usually focused on relaxing and finding something fun to do, it’s easy to let our guard down and get scammed.

Unfortunately one common place where scam artists hit is with card readers.  Often they will place a skimmer on a gas pump, but it can also be at an ATM machine.

The Federal Trade Commission describes Skimmers as illegal card readers attached to payment terminals — like gas pumps — that grab data off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe without your knowledge. Criminals sell the stolen data or use it to buy things online. You won’t know your information has been stolen until you get your statement or an overdraft notice.

While Skimmers are nothing new, advancements in technology have made them smaller and harder to find. Many times they’re even hidden inside a gas pump.

Here are tips to help you avoid a skimmer when you gas up:

  • Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and doesn’t show signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the cabinet panel. This is part of a voluntary program by the industry to thwart gas pump tampering. If the pump panel is opened, the label will read “void,” which means the machine has been tampered with.
Gas pump skimmer photo

Photo credit: National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and Conexxus

  • Take a good look at the card reader itself. Does it look different than other readers at the station? For example, the card reader on the left has a skimmer attached; the reader on the right doesn’t

Photo credit: Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Kamloops, Canada

  • Here’s an example of a skimmer and transmitter on an ATM.  In this case the skimmer slid over the regular card reader and looked just like the real ATM reader.

ATM-skimmer image ATM-card cover pic

  • Try to wiggle the card reader before you insert your card. If it moves, report it to the attendant or bank. Then use a different pump or ATM.
  • If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, the PIN is never exposed. If that’s not an option, cover your hand when entering your PIN. Scammers sometimes use tiny pinhole cameras, situated above the keypad area, to record PIN entries.
  • Review your bank and credit card accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.
  • If you’re really concerned about skimmers, you can pay inside rather than at the pump. Another option is to use a gas pump near the front of the store. Thieves may target gas pumps that are harder for the attendant to see.


If your credit card has been compromised, report it to your bank or card issuer. Federal law limits your liability if your credit, ATM, or debit card is lost or stolen, but your liability may depend on how quickly you report the loss or theft.