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Before Starbuck`s there was one of these on every corner - no, it`s not a riddle, I`m talking about good old fashioned gas stations. Over the year`s we`ve gone from full-service cash-only stations to self-service DIY stations. And with progress comes distress. And many consumers are running into issues when filling up with their credit card.

Consumers across the nation are becoming victims of skimming attacks. Skimmers use a high-tech device to copy your credit card information, including the information encoded on the magnetic strip in order to make purchases they couldn`t routinely afford.

Criminals buy a device which is also called a skimmer and latch it inside or onto the gas pump. The device then stores debit and credit card information from every consumer that swipes at that particular terminal. Some skimmers also install a fake numeric pad or install small cameras to get customer`s PIN numbers.

The equipment is very easy to install and takes less than a minute. After the skimmer has recorded an adequate amount of data the criminal comes back to the scene of the crime and removes the device. The more sophisticated skimmers get the information in real time and have the data sent directly to them as it comes through. This information is used to make duplicate credit cards, which criminals then use to run up credit card balances.

Crimes of this nature have popped up in major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities like Port Charlotte, FL. If you have a credit card, be wary of where you use it, because skimmers show no prejudice.

If you happen to fill up with your credit card at a gas pump equipped with skimming capabilities, hold onto your wallet, because you could be in for an expensive ride. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself when using your credit card at a gas station.

  1. Pay Inside. Even if you are using your credit or debit card, opt to pay inside. Inside offers more security, as skimmers rarely ever put equipment on attended registers. Be careful though if you try and get money out of the gas station ATM as those have been known to be hooked up with skimming devices.
  2. Check Your Balances. Always do this, even if you don`t suspect anything. Checking through your bank statements will keep you in touch with your purchases. If you see anything that doesn`t look right, call up the bank immediately. Many banks have fraud protection policies in place that will help you recover the money you lost from criminal purchases.
  3. Use a Credit Card at the Pump. If for some reason you have to pay tat the pump, use your credit card instead of your debit card. As soon as a criminal gets a hold of your checking account your money could be wiped out. If a skimmer gets your credit card information, purchases can still be made, but it isn`t deducting from the money that you earned. Bank disputes can take a while to settle, if a skimmer takes your debit information, you could be without cash for weeks or even months. Credit cards are a smarter option when making purchases in a questionable area. A Gas Credit Card might be helpful as well, as many of them offer cash-back or point style rewards.