(AP) - Fuel theft using fraudulent credit cards has become widespread
with the development of skimmers that steal account information at
gas station pumps. Here's a look at how they work, what authorities
are doing to combat them and what consumers can do to protect
Skimmers are electronic credit card
readers that thieves insert inside fuel pumps. Most can't be seen
from the outside, and the technology has become more sophisticated.
They're smaller and can capture the zip codes and personal
identification numbers consumers punch in as well as their account
information. Some even transmit stolen data wirelessly, so thieves
don't risk getting caught retrieving the devices. Thieves then create
clones of the consumers' cards. The Florida Department of Agriculture
and Consumer Services estimates that on average, each skimmer results
in 100 counterfeit cards, each of which are used to make $1,000 in
fraudulent purchases. In other words, a single skimmer typically
leads to $100,000 in theft.
Nearly every state has a law banning
the use of skimmers to fraudulently obtain credit card information.
Some states are increasing penalties for their use or possession. A
2016 Florida law made possessing 50 or more counterfeit cards a
first1degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and
requires stations to install security devices on pumps. These could
include pressure-sensitive tape that alerts stations when a pump has
been opened, or devices that shut down pumps if they are opened or
Paying in cash is the most effective
defense against skimmers, according to The Florida Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services. Other tips include:
a credit card, not a debit card, since credit cards have better fraud
protection, and the money is not deducted immediately from an
using a debit card at a pump, choose to run it as a credit card
rather than punch in a PIN number.
Check to make sure the gas pump
dispenser cabinet is closed and shows no signs of tampering.
Choose the pump closest to the
station's clerk. Thieves often place skimmers at pumps farther away
from the store.
Monitor bank and card accounts
regularly to spot any unauthorized charges.