As holiday shopping season ramps up, beware of card skimmers at gas pumps, ATMs

News4Jax crime and safety expert breaks down safest ways to pay

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before the holiday shopping season kicks into full gear, keep a close eye on your debit and credit cards.

With Florida’s top officials warning of skimmers not only at gas pumps but at ATMs, News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson is explaining the safest ways to pay.

“We talk about skimmers all year long. They’re even more prevalent now that the holiday season is here simply because people are going to be going to these ATM machines in droves," Jefferson said.

Jefferson recommends never having a lot of cash while holiday shopping. Instead, he said, use plastic.

The big question: Should you use a debit or credit card? Jefferson said both of these are good to use, however, if you use a debit card, don’t put a PIN in. Instead, he said, use it as a credit card.

“The skimmers pick up that PIN number. The PIN number is no good without the account number. You automatically get the account number when you put the card in, and the skimmer is waiting for that PIN number,” Jefferson said.

So when the keypad asks whether you want credit or debit, always choose credit, Jefferson advised.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried offered these five tips to avoid fraud at the pump:

  • Take a close look at the pump: Avoid using pumps that are open or unlocked, have had the tamper-evident security tape cut or removed, or otherwise appear unusual. If anything seems cracked, loose or tampered with, use a different pump. Some newer pumps may also have encrypted credit card readers -- look for an illuminated green lock symbol near the credit card reader.
  • Pay with a credit card: If a credit card number is skimmed, you’re protected by the card issuer’s zero-liability policy, but a stolen debit card number could be far more damaging. As Jefferson said, if you must use a debit card, choose to use it as credit, instead of selecting debit and entering your PIN. Additionally, use a credit card chip reader if it is available.
  • Pay inside instead of at the pump: It takes just seconds for criminals to place a skimmer in a gas pump, but it’s far less likely that a skimmer has been placed on the payment terminal in front of the clerk inside the gas station or convenience store. Take the few extra minutes to pay inside with cash or a credit card to protect yourself from fraud.
  • Choose gas pumps closest to the physical building: Don’t use gas pumps out of the attendant’s line of sight, such as those around a corner or behind a building.
  • Check your card statements and sign up for fraud alerts: Nearly every credit card issuer offers fraud alerts, and many will email or text you when your card is used at a gas station. Check your credit card and debit card transactions regularly to make sure no fraudulent activity has occurred.

And if you feel like giving this holiday season, Jefferson said, be wary of your surroundings.

“Don’t open your wallet, don’t open your purse to expose what’s in there because, a lot of times, there’s a third person that’s around somewhere that’s watching you and when you leave, that person who is actually in cahoots, they’ll wait until the opportunity arises to steal your purse or wallet," Jefferson said.

So, according to Jefferson, either have your money ready or just donate online.

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