(WBMA) — Many of you will be heading out for the upcoming Labor Day holiday next week.
You’ll drive to a weekend getaway. That means you’ll be gassing up your car — often at an unfamiliar gas station in another city or state.
We’ve got a consumer warning about skimming devices at fuel pumps that can steal your debit or credit card number.
We also have advice on what to watch out for and how to reduce your chances of crooks stealing your card number.
Drivers are on the alert
Ryan Hermecz owns a garage door company. He fills up his truck at a gas station. Gas pump skimmers are always on his mind.
“I think about it,” Hermecz told ABC 33/40 News Investigates. “I do have friends and family that have had their credit card information stolen and had to go through and cancel cards. Go through the nightmare of that.”
Justin Harmon travels up to 300 miles a day for the U.S. Agriculture Department. He checks gas pumps before he uses them. That’s because he found a skimmer at a gas station.
“It was over in South Carolina where I was,” Harmon said. “I yanked on it. It came right off in my hand. I just took it into the attendant.”
When a skimmer is installed on a single gas pump, it can capture 30 to 100 card numbers a day.
Police say gas pump skimmers are more likely to be found at service stations near interstate highway exits. That’s because they attract the most drivers using debit or credit cards.
Police: Credit cards safer than debit cards
Detective Mike Bellanca is with the Pelham Police Department. He says using a credit card is safer than using a debit card when gassing up. That’s because a debit card is connected directly to your bank account.
“The banks are generally really good about replenishing your funds once they realize it’s fraud,” Detective Bellanca said. “But, it still could take two or three days. In the meantime, if your account has been drained. You have no access to your money.”
Check the card reader for any sign of tampering
There are two types of gas pump skimmers. External and internal. One sign of an external skimmer: Check the card reader for any evidence of tampering.
“Anything loose or protruding from this area here,” Detective Bellanca said as he pointed to the spot where you insert your debit or credit card. “There should be nothing in there at all that moves.”
Doors to gas pumps need to be locked
Bellanca said the doors to gas pumps need to be locked too. If it’s unlocked or forced open. That’s a red flag.
Check your cell phone Bluetooth setting for unusual numbers
Internal card skimmers are hidden inside the gas pump—often with no evidence of tampering.
In fact, those skimmers can transmit your card number to crooks in real time using Bluetooth.
So, before you insert your card, you can check your cell phone’s Bluetooth setting. If you see a long string of numbers trying to connect, that's a warning sign.
Pay for your gas inside the service station
Here’s some more advice while traveling.
Pay for your gas inside the service station. It’s not as convenient, but that short walk could save you a lot of hassles.
Check your account daily while traveling
Police say always be sure to check your debit or credit card account every day—especially when traveling.