JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Credit card skimmers are more sophisticated than ever as millions of people prepare to hit the road for the holiday travel season and fuel up at gas stations.
“Does it make you nervous?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Jayy Gotti. “Yeah, it’s money, my money I work hard I don’t want anyone taking my money,” said Gotti who is worried that the rules of the road are being broken by thieves.
Action News Jax has reported about credit card skimmers at fuel pumps for years.
“It’s a real issue,” according to Steven Baisel, who is a secret service agent and says thieves typically place a fake overlay on a pump to steal your information.
“[It’s] normally positioned above the keypad and it has a pin pinhole camera so it can capture your PIN number,” said Baisel.
Thieves use Bluetooth technology to transmit to their computer or smartphone and create copies of your debit or credit card.
If only there was a way to fight back. Well there is.
Hunter Cat is a small $45 device powered by a coin battery and about the size of, you guessed it -- a credit card.
You swipe it at a pump and check for one of three lights -- green, yellow, or red -- and if you get red, there may be a skimmer.
Becker took it to various gas stations over Jacksonville to let people try it and although no skimmers were found it doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.
Since September 2021, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, skimmers have been found at 28 gas stations in Northeast Florida including 18 in Duval County.
The credit scoring service FICO says in 2022, there was a 759% year-over-year increase in card skimming across the country, and gas station pumps are a prime target.
“I think it’s a crime of opportunity,” says Mark Jenkins who is a spokesperson with Triple-A.
“We haven’t done any studies to confirm the efficacy of these devices [Hunter Cat], but if it makes you feel more comfortable as a consumer then it’s certainly worth a shot,” says Jenkins.
There are other ways to keep crooks from taking your cash.
Apple iPhone owners can use an app called “Card Skimmer Locator” and for Android phone owners there’s an app named “Skim Plus” -- both are free.
You open the apps and hold them near a gas pump to see if it senses Bluetooth, then if you check your Bluetooth setting and see a device with random numbers, it could be a skimmer.
You can also tap your card at the pump to protect yourself from skimmers, although not all pumps have them.
“You feel like it’s safer?” Becker asked Jenkins. “I think it is because I’m not putting my physical card into anything,” said Jenkins who says there’s one tried and true way to be safe.
“The best way to protect yourself pay inside either with cash or a credit card,” said Jenkins. “I’ve been taken advantage of with a card skimmer and it’s no fun.”
There are other options including linking your credit card to a gas station mobile app, but they can be susceptible to data breaches.
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If you must pay at the pump keep in mind that according to the Federal Trade Commission, your personal liability can’t exceed $50 with a credit card. If a thief uses your debit number you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.