Credit card skimming is alive and well in the United States, and much of it begins in Florida. Credit card skimmers and fraudsters often plan their actions and may then move to areas of lesser population that often have lower crime rates and in which law enforcement is less alert to their activities.
Gas Pump Skimmers
We all enjoy the convenience of using the pay-at-the-pump system, but it could be one of the places where criminals are able to gather information about your debit or credit card. Those who know how can purchase the component parts for a skimmer at any computer parts store. The constructed parts can be quickly installed in a pump, then activated, sending information about those who purchase gas back to the installer.
Floridians, especially those in high-crime areas, are alert to such activity. Stories of credit card skimming can be frequently heard on the local news. They take steps to protect their data, which can include: using cash to buy gas, entering the gas station to pay at the counter, or even using a prepaid card that will be used only to purchase gas (and will have a limited balance loaded on it.)
Residents in areas where the crime rate is lower, or where skimming is uncommon, might be less well-informed. It is for this reason that the skimmers often start in Florida, then move out to other states to use their ill-gotten information.
After the Skim
Once the information is skimmed, it can be used to create clones of credit cards. These cards can then be used to purchase goods that are then sold for cash, leaving the owner of the original card with unplanned expenses and a big headache.
Where do Skimmers Operate
The best answer to this is “Anywhere they think they can.” One couple was found in Portland, Maine, not far from the Canadian border. To observers, they might have looked like anyone on vacation. But their vacation was being funded by the original owners of the several cloned credit cards in their possession. Police revealed that they found 47 cards, 2 skimmers and a laptop with information that had been skimmed as long ago as 2015. Apparently, they had been planning their trip for a while.
If you must use a card in a gas pump, check the seals on the pump before you use it. You can even give a good tug on the card reader itself. Skimmers sometimes can be detached that way. Run your debit card as if it were a credit card – that way you aren’t giving away your pin number. Check your bank account frequently, and account for all charges that occur. Be prepared to lose online or card banking privileges for a time if you report suspicious activity to your bank. It is inconvenient, but better than having a string of odd charges on your bank account or having the account cleaned out completely. Reporting suspicious activity and putting up with the inconvenience is one way for you to “take one for the team,” and to help prevent the skimmers from using your information inappropriately.