Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in identity theft. More than 13 million Americans fell victim to identity fraud last year. Identity thieves have stolen $112 billion in the past six years, roughly $35,600 per minute. A major tool used by these criminals are gas station credit card skimmers. 37 million Americans refuel every day. Of them, 29 million pay for fuel with a credit or debit card. When skimming occurs at a gas station, it usually takes place at only one pump. A single compromised pump can capture data from 30 to 100 cards per day.

To steal credit card information thieves, break into gas pumps and install devices called skimmers. What these devices do is record and credit card numbers that can be either sold or used to duplicate cards for fraudulent use. To install the devices, they open the service doors on pumps and wire the skimmers into the same system that reads your card for processing. After inserting skimming devices in PIN-entry devices at gas stations, criminals then download personal information from credit/debit cards. To combat this problem, gas pump tamper-evident labels have been developed as a simple and cost-effective way to deter fraud.

To that end, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the largest trade association of gas stations and convenience stores in the nation, in partnership TydenBrooks Security Products Group, the oldest and largest manufacturer of security seals, developed the “We Care” Security Label. These labels are intended to give a clear sign to consumers that the pumps haven’t been tampered with, and that their financial information is secure. These pressure sensitive labels, when applied across the seam of a door leading to the credit card scanning device, deter tampering and once lifted these labels show a message reading “Void Open.” By giving both consumers and station attendants a visual cue that the seal has been compromised.

Beyond the obvious void message, these tamper-evident gas pump labels use unique numbering and barcodes to ensure they are not fraudulently replicated. The use of these sequential non-repeating numbers and barcodes allows station attendees to maintain a log of which seals are being used to secure the pumps. This proactive approach and be supplemented with the use of technology and applications readily available to most station operators.

Using those additional features in conjunction the “SkimDefend” app designed for NACS, and powered by Pinnacle Corporation, to further reduce the risk of skimming at fuel dispensers. The app (when installed on a mobile device) logs the unique characteristics of each label storing the site, time, pump number and decal ID information. The information is stored on remote cloud servers and can be accessed by the station operators to audit seal application. Retailers can use this information to proactively combat skimming efforts, and maintain forensic evidence for authorities in the event a skimmer is discovered. This app can be downloaded for free on any android or apple device.

Additional guidance, to prevent credit card theft, from the Federal Trade Commission encourages drivers to take the following steps to protect themselves:

    • Drivers can try to wiggle the card reader before they put in their card. If it moves, it has likely been tampered with, report it to the attendant and then use a different pump.
    • If someone is using a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, the PIN is safe and the funds are not deducted immediately from the driver’s account. If that’s not an option, cover your hand when entering your PIN. Scammers sometimes use tiny pinhole cameras, installed above the keypad area, to record PIN entries.
    • Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges, so you can limit any possible damages.
    • If you're really concerned about skimmers, you can pay inside rather than at the pump. Another option is to use a gas pump near the front of the store. Thieves may target gas pumps that are harder for the attendant to see.
    • In conclusion, while identity theft is a complex and pervasive problem. The use of tamper-evident gas pump labels, in addition to other small steps, can allow both consumers and station operators to protect themselves from skimmers. While this does not prevent all of the many forms of identity theft it does limit the exposure for cautious consumers. Taking the time to pause at the pump might just save you a great deal of time and money.