Action 9

Credit card skimmers: How to keep your money safe

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some people in central Florida are getting ripped off at the pump and we’re not talking about the price of gas. Crooks are using skimmers to steal credit card information.

These days consumers are using credit and debit cards everywhere. Crooks are looking to take advantage of that and will use any tool they can to steal information from the cards.

Some consumers told Action 9 they are always on the lookout for visible signs of skimming devices whenever they pay using a car, but they are not always easy to spot.

Chris Hansen from the U.S. Secret Service sees the hidden devices all the time as part of the agency’s fraud investigations.

Hansen said, “They wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t money to be made.”

Some of the devices he sees have magnetic stripe readers that are placed on the card slots themselves.

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“So, they could just quickly take it out of their pocket, snap it on while the cashier is distracted,” Hansen said.

Other skimming devices can be even harder to detect. They don’t use a mag-stipe reader and gas pumps are often targeted. Instead of the stripe reader, they are hidden deep inside the pump, and they intercept the digital information as its being processed.

Many stations are moving away from the mag-stripe technology and replacing it with chip card readers and pin requirements or even tap-to-pay options.

That technology is helping protect consumers, but it’s not fool proof.

In Florida over the past two years, The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has received 385 reports of skimmers on pumps.

So, how do you tell if there’s a problem? The U.S. Secret Service says the overlaid devices will have mushy-feeling buttons and the device may not look exactly the same as it usually does.

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On the open market, some companies are even selling devices designed to detect skimmers. One example is the Hunter Cat. It’s a $45 device shaped like a credit card.

Action 9 and the Cox Media Group stations across the country tested it on gas pumps. It starts with the push of a button, then the card is inserted into the card reader like a credit card. If it flashes a green light on top, no skimmer has been detected. If it flashes red, there could be a problem.

In central Florida, Action 9 only received green lights, but the CMG sister station in Georgia found one that flashed red. The card reader looked bulkier than others and the gas pump screen had a warning about being tampered with.

One of the Hunter Cat designers, Eduardo Contreras, said, " It’s intended for places that the machine is the outside by itself, and it could be modified.”

The Hunter Cat was designed to help consumers before they swipe their card. It works by reading if there’s more than one magnetic stripe reader. The Hunter Cat designers warn even if you are using a chip card in a chip reading device you are still swiping your card and the information on your magnetic stripe can still be stolen.

But they point out, it won’t work if the skimmer doesn’t use a magnetic stripe reader like they kind that are hidden inside the pumps.

While Hansen with the U.S. Secret Service hasn’t tested the Hunter Cat, he knows devices like it have worked. But he warned, its effectiveness will depend on the type of technology the skimming devices use and crooks are always upping their game as technology changes.

Hansen said, “You’ve probably heard it described as a cat and mouse.”

It is safer to use tap-to-pay rather than swiping. Another option to protect your card is to use smartphone payments like Apple Pay or Google Pay. If you do use a card to swipe for payments, using a credit card instead of a debit card will offer better protection if your information does get stolen.

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal,

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.