Simple Ways To Spot and Avoid Gas Station Pump Switching Scams
Employees of gas stations, referred to as “attendants,” would pump gas for customers in the early days of automobile travel as well as in modern-day New Jersey. While some gas stations still provide full-service filling, self-pumping has become more and more common.
In light of this, it might be startling if someone approached you at a gas station and offered to switch your pump—especially given that, in the words of the Lower Marion Police Department, suspects in pump switching “are often very aggressive and outright refuse the victim’s attempts to deny assistance.”
According to police reports, the scam typically takes one of the following two forms:
1. A customer pays with a credit card at the gas station. The con artist offers to pump their gas for them or insists forcefully that they do so, or, if they’re done, returns the nozzle to the pump. They use the nozzle to fill their own car with gas on the other person’s dime rather than putting it back.
2. It begins the same as the first scenario, with the exception that the con artist leaves the nozzle in place after filling up their own car. Instead, they keep it open and offer to pump gas for additional customers in exchange for cash payments. The initial customer covers all costs, and the con artist keeps the money.
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15% of surveyed Americans say they have experienced credit card skimming at a gas pump, and 43% say they have altered the way they pay for gas to prevent skimming. Women and Millennials are more likely to have changed their payment methods than other groups.
The most typical way that people have altered their payment routines in response to the risk of skimming is to pay for gas indoors rather than at the pump, with 20% of people reporting doing so.
While there are different strategies for avoiding scams online, this particular one is unique since it happens in person, and you may be caught completely off guard. Here’s how you can protect yourself from this scam.
It’s natural to zone out, or you may even be tempted to check your phone while pumping your gas. This is a routine activity where you may get lost in thinking about your workday or the errands you need to run. With this scam becoming more common, you must be alert when pumping gas. You should also try to avoid interactions with someone who clearly doesn’t work at the gas station who is trying to get involved in your process. If a stranger approaches you, decline their assistance politely.
Hang up your gas hose and collect your receipt every single time by pressing “End Transaction” to ensure you were only charged for the gas you used to fill up. Even if you’re in a hurry, it’s critical that you close your transaction so that some scammer doesn’t charge you for additional gas. The time it takes to close the transaction is minuscule compared to how much you will have to deal with when it comes to contacting the authorities and your credit card company.
If someone gets aggressive or confrontational with you at the gas pump, don’t get into it with them. The best strategy is to call for help immediately by notifying the gas station staff or contacting the police so that you don’t get into a physical confrontation. The police have also recommended that if you encounter this scam, you should find a safe area where you can remain on the scene until the authorities arrive.
Don’t let random strangers pump your gas unless you go to a full-service station on purpose or are in New Jersey. Never let the screen ask you if you’d like a receipt; always return the nozzle to the pump yourself to complete the transaction.
If you know you won’t do it, at least wait for the screen to return to the welcome message with instructions for new customers. The police advise getting a receipt as proof that the transaction is complete.
Det. Sgt. Michael Keenan of the Lower Marion Police Department advises the following if you or someone you know encounters this kind of pump scamming: “Withdraw to a secure distance. If you’re nearby or close to the gas station, dial 911. Wait for someone to arrive, then identify the person you believe is trying to con you or who stole your gas handle.
There are many ways that scammers target gas station customers. The most common scam is called skimming, which is when criminals alter a gas pump so that your credit card is read by their device, not the gas station’s. This device skims, or captures, your credit card information, which is quickly used to make fraudulent charges.
The skimming device is designed to look like part of the gas pump, but a closer inspection reveals it’s a piece of molded plastic that only appears to be part of the pump’s credit card terminal. Skimmers were first found to be prevalent in cities, but their use has now spread to more rural areas.
To spot a skimmer, pay attention to the credit card terminal, to see if it doesn’t look right in some way. Typically, skimmers are crudely made devices that might look flimsy compared to a legitimate credit card reader. If you try tugging or wiggling the device, and it’s not securely attached to the pump, then there’s a very good chance it’s a skimmer. And if you compare the appearance of the device with those on the other pumps at the gas station, and it’s different, then it’s likely a skimmer, as not every pump will be compromised.
Another crime that occurs at gas stations is the simple car robbery. Victims can have their purses, wallets or other personal items stolen while they’re filling up their tank, or making a purchase at the convenience store. And if you leave your car unattended with the keys in it, the car can be stolen as well. Other crimes include siphoning gas out of a car that’s parked at the convenience store next to a gas station.
Like every tip on this list, this first recommendation is simple (and easy!). Even if you’re technically paying for your gas with your debit card, when prompted to choose if the card you’re using is a debit or credit card, always select “credit.”
The reason to do this is in order to bypass the pump asking you for your PIN. Your PIN is crucial to accessing your accounts, so keeping it a secret is non-negotiable. Not entering your pin at the pump helps ensure that the fraudster has one less bit of key information about your card.
Fraudsters choose their gas pumps wisely, so you have to be wiser. When picking their target, they usually opt to outfit the pump that is farthest from the on-site convenience store. This way, their activity is out of the range of any security cameras at the store’s entrance.
With this in mind, you can take simple steps to protect yourself. When deciding where to park your car to refill, choose the pump that is closest to the store, and always cover the number pad with your hand when inputting your information. Remember, protecting that PIN is vital!
Keeping the number pad and screen covered is a simple, effective way to keep things like your PIN number or zip code safe from prying eyes.
Check out the card reader very carefully. You want to avoid using a machine that’s been tampered with by adding a
Ask yourself some of the following questions before you insert your card to reduce the risk of being a victim of tampering:
Do the numbers on the PIN pad look raised? Do they look newer or bigger than the rest of the machine?
Does anything look like it doesn’t belong?
Does the card reader feel loose when you attempt to put in your card?
Is the fuel pump’s seal broken?
It is important to remain vigilant at the gas station as this new scam is becoming more common. If someone offers to pump gas for you, politely decline. If they insist or become confrontational, call for help immediately. Always be aware of your surroundings and make sure you always get your receipt before driving.
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