ECS Eclipse News

Skimming for Skimmers

August 15, 2012 (comments: 0)

When most regulated storage tank system owners, operators, and contractors think of performing an inspection of a motor fuel dispenser, they think of inspecting for environmental compliance and maintenance. They look for leaks, drips, broken or warn out equipment, and other items that may pose certain risks. This type of inspection is typically required to be performed due to regulatory requirements from certain agencies having jurisdiction over the tank system. The purpose of these inspections is to ensure the safety and well being of people and the environment.

But, when it comes to people, there may be another danger associated with the use of motor fuel dispensers. One not directly associated with leaks, spills, fire, or physical safety, but one that can still cause devastation; IDENTITY THEFT.

Identity theft is something that seems to occur more and more often as our world becomes increasingly technologically advanced. In an age of widely used credit cards, debit cards, and other electronic payment methods, our personal information can be at risk of falling into the wrong hands. It isn’t news to anyone that care must be taken when using a credit or debit card to pay for something over the internet, but very few people think twice about swiping their card at the pumps.

Identity theft at motor fuel dispensers occurs in a way that is different from internet purchases. It is not necessarily a matter of hackers getting through website security or using software to retrieve credit card information, but the physical installation of “skimmer” devices on the gas pump card readers.

Most people have a basic understanding of how a credit card transaction works at a gas pump. The customer inserts or swipes a card through a card reader device, which then reads the necessary account information to make the transaction from the card’s magnetic strip. By installing a foreign device called a “skimmer” in place of or attached to the existing card reader, identity thieves can attain this same information.

The nature of a motor fuel dispenser makes it an ideal target for identity thieves. Credit card readers are used almost anywhere a purchase can be made. Typically they are under close supervision from clerks, attendants, and other personnel, such as those located at a cash register in a supermarket. But card readers located outdoors at gas pumps are not always directly supervised. This provides thieves with an opportunity to tamper with these devices, unnoticed.

So the big questions is; “How do I know if a skimmer has been installed?” The answer however, may not be so simple. Outside of the obviously tampered, flimsy, and unofficial appearance some cheaper external skimmers may have, it may be impossible for the average customer to know the difference before making a purchase. Higher quality skimmers can have an appearance indistinguishable from the original card reader. Some skimmers are even installed on the dispenser internally and use the factory card reader.

Owners and operators on the other hand, are in a position where they can become more familiar with their equipment, making identification of a foreign device more feasible. Performing inspections regularly can help owners and operators get to know their equipment, and be able to spot anything out of the ordinary. Though contractors performing maintenance work or inspection of a dispenser may not have the same day to day familiarity with the specific facility, their experience and expertise gives them the ability to identify such devices.

As discussed earlier, many owners and operators of storage tank and dispenser systems are already required to perform regular environmental compliance and maintenance inspections. So, while you are there, don’t just skim through the inspection, inspect for the skimmers. It could save someone’s identity.


- Troy Dickins, Field Services Technician

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