Monday, June 6, 2016

Scammed! ... No, Skimmed!

We thought it would be good to leave electronics behind and just enjoy our vacation on Ocean Reef last weekend. Which means we didn't check our email until we got home. When we did ...

Big shock!

We had been skimmed!

There was an email from the bank alerting us to suspicious activity on a debit card, which began just one hour after we left the house. We hadn't read the email. Debit card and PIN number were stolen and the account drained of $3200.

It's a horrible feeling.

By studying the account activity we figured out the information was stolen at a gas station in Savannah, then first used in Charleston by thieves to finance a Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas.

We were stunned. There had been no one suspicious lurking around, peering over our shoulder at the pump. How could someone get the PIN number?

* * * * * calls 2016 "The Year of the Skimmer". It's happening everywhere, in small towns and big cities. Maybe we are the only ones unaware of this but maybe not. I'll pass along what we've learned. Maybe it will save someone else from this crime.

Thieves work in pairs, one to distract the gas station attendant, the other to open the front of the pump, and in seconds install a small device on the card reader inside the pump that relays the credit card number back to them wirelessly. They also stick a tiny camera on the pump over the PIN pad to get the number as you punch it in. They are fast and on their way before the attendant knows anything happened.

Craig VanBuren, director of the Consumer Protection Section at Michigan’s Department of Agriculture, shows how the skimmer devices are placed inside a gas pump. NBC News

Crooks can buy a skimmer on eBay for less than $100 and it's small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. They also target ATM machines and rig them with similar devices.

The advice I've gathered:

  • How can you know if a skimmer has been added to a gas pump? Some stations are putting a sticker across the seal on the door on the front of the pump. It's a bright color and easy to see if it has been tampered with or torn and the pump opened. If anything looks suspicious on the front of the pump, don't use it. (We haven't seen a single one of these stickers since, however, so it doesn't seem they are in widespread use yet.)
  • Use the pumps nearest the attendant in the station. Crooks target the pumps farthest away.
  • Pay inside. Your chances are better that the cashier is not a crook.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. This limits the amount of info the thieves can get, plus it's easier to get your money back than with a debit card. Also, not all banks offer debit card protection.
  • Set up your credit or debit card account for alerts by text message which typically will be noticed before an email.
  • If it happens to you, alert the gas station and the police of the town where you think it happened. They can install a GPS tracker on the thieves' device in the pump and possibly catch them.

Fortunately for us, the card we used was protected and the money will be returned to our account and the card replaced.

Meanwhile, though, we are still waiting for the new card a week later and have no cash or access to our account.



  1. That's horrible! I had seen on the news that skimmers had been found in Savannah and Beaufort. Hope it's not too hard getting your money back.

  2. We had fraud on my card too...never figured out the source. At least we got the notification immediately and damage was much less. The world sucks when it comes to this. Sorry it ruined your return from your vacation.

  3. How horrible to return from a vacation to discover this violation. It seems however careful we are the thieves are one step ahead.

  4. Thanks for the info. We always alert our charge card and bank when we will be away. Visa immediately caught even a $10.00 charge!

  5. That's alarming. I always cover the keypad with my other hand when punching in my pin. That would hopefully foil a little camera. Good that you can get the money back.

  6. That is just awful! I mean seriously, you can't turn your back for a minute. Hard to believe there are so many thieves out there. Glad your card was protected and you can get your money back.

  7. So sorry to hear this happened!

  8. Oh no, it is all good advice that you gave. Lately we have been going inside to pay for gas, it seems Gas Stations are big targets for skimming...the bums anyway:(

  9. I've heard of skimming but not at the gas station. This is good information. So sorry it happened to you but glad you will get your funds back!

  10. This is terrible! I'm so glad you aren't out of pocket but of course you have the inconvenience of not being able to access your account for a while. It happened to my DH's credit card...the thieves got $16000 before the bank stopped the card. My husband wasn't liable for the money though, thank goodness! T

  11. Oh no, I am so sorry to read this happened to you. It was very generous of you to share what you've learned. Just last week here in MN, they showed a store camera video of how quickly a skimmer was added to a self check-out lane. It was less than ten seconds! Yikes! if 2016 is the year of skimming, we are not even half way through the nightmare, Thanks for sharing!

    1. I think I read it was a group of stations in Eagan, MN that first got together and thought up the sticker idea after they had all been targeted. I hadn't read that skimmers could be on store checkouts, too. Jeez, maybe we will all have to go back to cash. Just don't use the ATM to get your cash, however!

  12. Oh dear me, dreadful feeling for you both.
    Thanks for the information.
    Skimming from the ATM machines - we here in Australia have been made very aware of that type of thing, but still!
    Pleasing you can get your money back, many wouldn't be able to..good luck.

  13. You have to be so SUPER CAREFUL these days.
    I have been told with credit cards - NEVER SWIPE, put the card
    into the machine - select account, put in pin and you are 99.99% safe.
    As Margaret above has mentioned - here in Australia we get constant
    warnings on the TV etc.
    Be wary of what you put on FACEBOOK also - that is something I would
    not touch in 1000 lifetimes.
    Good to know that you will get the refund - they are very good and quick here
    with any mistakes that can happen.

  14. What a shock you must have had when you returned home. Thieves are everywhere it seems. I don’t have a debit card and am still old fashioned – when traveling I pay cash for gas, but I use my credit card with chip in stores though. I am pleased that they are finally starting to use credit cards with chip like in Europe as they are supposed to be safer.

  15. What a terrible experience for you, the world is sometimes not a nice place with evil people.

  16. In my. Country it is very popular you must be careful in contempirary world

  17. Best to use credit card rather than debit card, easier to get the mess fixed. Plus I suggest people subscribe to the free email newsletter from, her name is Kim Kommando and she sends out alerts about things like this. I am glad your vacation was not affected and you will get your money back.