Debit Cards and ID Theft at the Gas Station

Gas station identity theft is surprisingly simple, especially when you use your debit card. Here's how to avoid it.

By now, you probably know to avoid gas station identity theft by taking your credit or debit card receipts with you, and disposing of them properly. But even if you do everything right, you can still get zinged by a clever identity thief -- especially if you use your debit card at the pump.

It's bad enough that the oil companies hold you hostage. Why let someone steal your identity too?

How It Works

Despite their sturdy appearances, it can be surprisingly easy for an identity thief to open up a gas pump and insert a covert skimming device that no one can see from the outside. Such a device can yank your personal information if you use a debit card, and you'll be none the wiser until it's too late.

Here's why it's so easy: only a few manufacturers make the gas pumps used all across America. All the thief has to do is get his hands on a pump key, either by outright theft or by paying off a disgruntled station employee somewhere, and he can access the pumps at will.

Accidental Collusion

At some stations, you may have noticed signs proclaiming that the sale price is a few cents cheaper if you'll pay with cash or a debit card. Either that, or you were lured in by a posted price only to find the actual pump price to be higher if you intend to pay with a credit card. It's not quite a bait-and-switch, but it's close.

The reason the station is willing to extend you these savings is simple: if you pay cash or use a debit card, they don't have to pay credit card processing fees. In making the offer, though, they make it easier for thieves to steal your identity if you use a debit card. It may not be intentional, but that's how it is.

The upshot? You won't find a more dangerous place to use a debit card than your average gas station.

Recommendations

If you really, really want to save less than a buck per fill-up, it's a much better idea to pay cash than to use your debit card to get a discount. If you must use a card, use the credit option. You'll usually get the choice on the screen prompt; if not, just proceed without entering your PIN number.

That way, your purchase will process through the credit card network, which proves greater protection from both fraud and liability for the same.

Discount or not, try to avoid using your debit card at the gas station; it's just not worth the risk just to save a little time or a few cents here and there.

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